Five years after his death, Pope John Paul II's record in office is coming under growing criticism as Vatican officials try to shift the blame for the sex-abuse scandals engulfing the Catholic Church on his leadership.
As Pope Benedict XVI prepares to make an address to the world for Easter Sunday tomorrow, the Vatican is fighting back. It has also lashed out at criticism from the media.
Fr Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher to the papal household, yesterday told a congregation that the current "violent and concentric attacks" on the church and the Pontiff were "reminiscent of the most shameful aspects of anti-Semitism".
Above all, the church is casting doubt on the Pope's Polish-born predecessor's record in office, and his fast track to sainthood.
Cardinal Christoph Schonborn, the Archbishop of Vienna -- a staunch supporter of Pope Benedict, and seen as a possible successor -- put the blame on John Paul II and his advisers for failure to take action against Cardinal Hans Hermann Groer, Cardinal Schonborn's predecessor and a serial child-abuser.
Cardinal Schonborn told 'L'Osservatore Romano', the Vatican newspaper, that as Head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which dealt with clerical sex abuse, the Pope (then Cardinal Ratzinger) had pressed John Paul in vain to investigate Cardinal Groer.
Cardinal Groer stepped down in 1995 after being accused of molesting a schoolboy. After he resigned, allegations surfaced that he had also sexually abused young monks.
He was never defrocked, however, and died in Germany in 2003.
Cardinal Schonborn said that Vatican officials -- who he did not name -- had persuaded John Paul not to investigate Cardinal Groer because of the bad publicity it would give the church.
"I remember clearly the moment when Cardinal Ratzinger told me with sadness that the other side had prevailed," Cardinal Schonborn said. He added that Pope Benedict was not "someone who covers things up".
Andrea Tornielli, biographer of John Paul II and Pope Benedict, said that it was also being suggested that Cardinal Ratzinger had wanted to take action against the late Father Marcial Maciel Degollado, the Mexican-born founder of the controversial Legion of Christ, but that John Paul had defended him.
Fr Maciel, once a cult figure, is believed to have sexually abused young seminarians and fathered at least three children. Defenders of Pope Benedict point out that he began proceedings against Fr Maciel and the legion shortly after his election as Pope, instructing Fr Maciel to lead a "reserved life of prayer and penance," effectively removing him from power.
Fr Maciel died two years ago, and the legion has apologised for his misconduct.
David Clohessy, head of the US-based Network of those Abused by Priests said: "It is at best disingenuous and at worst deceitful to shift focus away from child sex crimes and cover-ups." (© The Times, London)