Former Pope Benedict has denied accusations that he tried to cover up sexual abuse of children by Roman Catholic priests. The denial was his first direct published comments since he stepped down in February.
Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI [pictured left] has published a lengthy letter denying that he covered up reports of sexual abuse by priests.
Benedict's issued his denial in an 11-page letter to Piergiorgio Odifreddi, an Italian atheist and mathematician who in 2011 wrote a book about the problems facing the Catholic Church, before Benedict resigned.
Excerpts of the letter were published in the Rome newspaper La Repubblica on Tuesday.
In the book, Odifreddi poses several arguments polemical arguments about the Catholic faith, including the sex abuse scandal that has plagued the Church.
Benedict, formerly Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, headed the Vatican office responsible for abuse cases as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith beginning in 1981. He became pope in 2005.
"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.
It was believed to be the first time he has responded to these accusations in the first person.
After stepping down from the papacy on February 28, Benedict said he would spend his final years "hidden from the world," living in a converted monastery behind St. Peter's Basilica, reading and praying.
The letter came as a surprize, since Pope Francis, Benedict's successor, had only weeks before penned a letter to another Italian atheist on the same subject.
Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi, said it was pure coincidence that the two men had written the letters and denied that the two had collaborated on it.
Odifreddi called the letter "an unprecedented dialogue between a theologian pope and an atheist mathematician, divided in most everything but drawn together by at least one objective: the search for Truth."
Meanwhile, victims' groups have rejected Benedict's denial and accuse him of not doing enough to stop the abuse of children by priests during his time at the Vatican.
In response, The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), released a statement saying: "In the Church's entire history, no one knew more but did less to protect kids than Benedict."
The crisis came to light in Boston in 2002 when media began reporting on cases of abuse that were systematically being covered up.
As a result, the Church has set up new guidelines such as how to deal with cases of past abuse, prevent new cases and report abuse to police.
hc/kms (Reuters, AFP, AP)