In a reaction to the widening pedophile scandal in Germany, the Vatican has rallied around the pontiff, claiming that "certain elements" had launched a targeted campaign to discredit the Catholic Church.
"It is clearly evident that in the past few days there have been some in Regensburg and Munich who, with a certain dogged determination, have sought details to personally implicate the Holy Father in the abuse issues," said Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi.
"To any observer it is clear that these attempts have failed," he added.
The issue of responsibility
The pope's former diocese in Bavaria on Friday said he was involved in a decision in 1980 to move a priest who was suspected of sexually abusing an 11-year-old boy.
Instead of undergoing therapy, the priest was assigned to a Munich parish without restrictions. Six years later, the priest was given a suspended jail sentence for child sex offenses during that period.
The diocese claims this was a decision made by then-vicar general Gerhard Gruber, but the head of the Catholic lay reform movement in Germany, Christian Weisner, has rejected that interpretation, saying that due to the Church's hierarchal structures, it was the pontiff - then Archbishop Joseph Ratzinger - who was ultimately responsible.
On Friday, the head of Germany's Catholic Bishops Conference, Robert Zollitsch, briefed journalists about the situation in Germany, where more than 100 reports have emerged of abuse at Catholic institutions, including schools and one linked to the prestigious Regensburg choir run by the pope's brother from 1964 to 1994.
Church activists want changes
The recent raft of revelations prompted Weisner to express his disappointment that the pope had "not found any words of sympathy (for the victims), nor asked for forgiveness and reconciliation."
The president of the Central Committee of German Catholics, Alois Glueck, told the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper in an interview on Saturday that the Church needed new structures. He said it was time to consider whether "church-related conditions" had promoted the abuse and that the issue of celibacy for priests should be re-examined.
The head of Germany's Child Protection League, Heinz Hilgers, warned however that all the attention should not be focused on cases that occurred decades ago. He stressed that every year between 80,000 and 120,000 children in Germany are sexually abused. Most cases, he said, happen in the family and not through the church or in schools.
In another blow for the Catholic Church, an opinion survey conducted by the Emnid Institute for a German television news channel on Friday found that 86 percent of those polled had lost faith in the church leaderships' willingness to pursue the sex abuse allegations.
Editor: Andreas Illmer