The Vatican yesterday denounced what it called aggressive attempts to draw Pope Benedict XVI into a scandal in his German homeland, after it emerged a suspected paedophile priest was sent to do community work by the Munich archdiocese while the Pope was archbishop there some 30 years ago.
Both the Holy See's spokesman and its prosecutor for sexual abuse of minors by clergy defended the Pope. Abuse scandals have dogged the Pontiff in recent days following decades of abuses in the UK, the United States and around the world. The spokesman said the Pope has bravely confronted such cases for years.
On Friday the Munich archdiocese acknowledged it had transferred a paedophile priest at that time, amid abuse accusations connected to the Regensburg boys' choir, which was directed by the Pope's elder brother for 30 years.
Pope Benedict XVI drew further criticism over a 2001 church directive he wrote while a Vatican cardinal, instructing bishops to keep abuse cases confidential.
Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi said on Vatican Radio: "It's rather clear that in the last days there have been those who have tried, with a certain aggressive persistence, in Regensburg and Munich, to look for elements to personally involve the Holy Father in the matter of abuses.
"For any objective observer, it's clear that these efforts have failed." He said the Munich archdiocese insisted the Pope was not involved in the decision to transfer the suspected child abuser.
The Archdiocese of Munich and Freising announced on Friday night that it was setting up a new taskforce to focus on raising awareness in preventing sexual abuse within the Catholic Church and its institutions. Prelate Peter Beer, general vicar of the archdiocese, said: "There is no 100 per cent protection against sexual abuse, because we can never rule out the failure or misdoing of individuals, but we want to apply ourselves 100 per cent to prevent it from happening again."
The taskforce will collaborate with the working group charged with looking into allegations of past abuse.
Last month, the archdiocese, where the Pope served as archbishop from 1977-82, set up the working group after allegations of abuse in a church-run school surfaced. One man, Thomas Mayer, told Germany's Der Spiegel weekly that he had been sexually and physically abused while in the Regensburger Domspatzen boys' choir in 1992.
Mr Mayer's allegations are the first to overlap with the time the Pontiff's brother, Georg Ratzinger, led the group – from 1964-94. Cases of sexual abuse that have previously been reported date back to the late 1950s.
Mr Mayer is reported to have said he was raped by older pupils, adding that students were forced to have anal sex with one another in the apartment of a prefect at the church-run boarding school attached to the choir.
The Regensburg diocese has refused to comment on the report.