Former Pope Benedict has denied that he tried to cover up sexual abuse of children by Roman Catholic priests, in his first direct published comments since he stepped down.
The comments were made in an 11-page letter to Italian author and mathematician Piergiorgio Odifreddi, who had written a book about the problems facing the Roman Catholic Church before the pope resigned in February.
“As far as you mentioning the moral abuse of minors by priests, I can only, as you know, acknowledge it with profound consternation. But I never tried to cover up these things,” said Benedict, who now has the title Emeritus Pope.
Excerpts of the letter were published in the Rome newspaper La Repubblica on Tuesday with the former pope’s permission.
It was believed to be the first time Benedict has responded to the sexual abuse accusations in the first person, although the Vatican has always said he did much to put an end to sexual abuse of minors by priests and never tried to cover it up.
Victims groups have accused Benedict of not doing enough to stop the abuse of children by priests while he was pope and before when he was head of the Vatican’s doctrinal office, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), rejected his assertion.
“In the church’s entire history, no one knew more, but did less to protect kids than Benedict,” SNAP said in statement.
Victims’ groups say there is much still to be discovered about how the church behaved in the past and want more bishops who were aware of abuse to be held responsible.
The rest of the letter from Benedict to Odifreddi referred to other aspects of the author’s book, called Dear Pope, I Am Writing You, such as the conflict between good and evil.