Thursday 23 February 2017

Pope beefs up security over abuse furore

Nick Pisa in Rome

Security around the Pope is to be stepped up for his visit to Malta after sex abuse victims on the island said they planned to protest at his failure to tackle the scandal rocking the Catholic Church.

The decision came after vandals defaced posters promoting the Pontiff's trip next week by adding a Hitler-style moustache to his photograph and the word "paedophile".

As a teenager in Germany, Pope Benedict, then Josef Ratzinger, was conscripted into the Hitler Youth in the closing stages of World War Two, an episode he has avoided talking about.

Embarrassed church chiefs in Malta said the action was simply "wanton vandalism'' and not representative of the island's majority population, of which more than 90pc are Roman Catholic. There has been a series of high-level calls between security and Vatican officials in both Rome and La Valleta in recent days as the scandal over sex abuse by clergy has grown.

A Vatican source said: "There is a real fear that protests will be an issue during the visit by the Pope to Malta and, as a result, precautions are being taken. The itinerary is not being changed but there is concern and, as a result, an increase in vigilance.''

Defrock

It comes after it was disclosed that the Pope, who was then Cardinal Ratzinger, resisted appeals to defrock an American priest with a record of sexually molesting children. In a letter, written in 1985 and bearing his name, he said that any action against Fr Stephen Kiesle should take into account the "good of the universal church" and the "detriment that granting the dispensation can provoke within the community of Christ's faithful, particularly concerning the young age." Fr Kiesle was 38 at the time.

Malta, like Ireland, Germany and America, has been hit by a series of sex scandals involving Roman Catholic clergy. There have been abuse claims against 45 priests on the island.

Victims plan to protest when the Pope's plane lands on Saturday afternoon next and at various other events during the Pope's 36-hour trip, which is to celebrate St Paul being shipwrecked there 1950 years ago.

However, the Vatican defended Pope Benedict at the weekend -- California-based Vatican lawyer Jeffrey Lena accused the media of a "rush to judgment".

Vatican analyst and papal biographer Marco Politi said the letter "is a serious blow to the position of Cardinal Ratzinger in the 1980s."

"This document reflects what was the general attitude of the Vatican in those years when the main thing was to care about the image of the Church and about a scandal in a parish," he said. ( © Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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