VATICAN CITY, Oct 2 (Reuters) - The Vatican on Monday threw its full support behind British bishops who attacked a BBC documentary alleging there had been a cover-up of child sexual abuse under a system Pope Benedict enforced in his previous job.Roman Catholic bishops from England and Wales condemned the documentary, which was aired on Sunday night, as "false and misleading". The Vatican said it would have no comment of its own for the time being but said it fully endorsed a sternly worded statement by Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Birmingham written on behalf of the British bishops.
Nichols, chair of the Catholic Office for the Protection of Children and Vulnerable Adults, said the BBC should be "ashamed of the standard of the journalism used to create this unwarranted attack on Pope Benedict XVI". The BBC defended the documentary, made by the flagship current affairs programme "Panorama", which examined what it described as a secret document written in 1962 that set out a procedure for dealing with child sex abuse within the Catholic Church.
The document, called "Crimen Sollicitationis", imposes an oath of secrecy on the child victim, the priest dealing with the allegation and any witness. Breaking that oath would result in excommunication, the BBC said.
"The procedure was intended to protect a priest's reputation until the Church had investigated, but in practice it can offer a blueprint for cover-up," the documentary said.
"The man in charge of enforcing it for 20 years was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the man made Pope last year," reporter Colm O'Gorman said in the programme "Sex Crimes and the Vatican". Ratzinger was head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican department that enforces doctrine, from 1981 until his election as Pope in April 2005.
DEFENCE OF POPE The British bishops said the original 1962 document was concerned not directly with child abuse but with the abuse of the confessional by a priest to silence his victim.
The 1962 document was revised in 2001 to deal more specifically with sexual abuse cases but still remained secret.
The bishops flatly rejected the attack on the current Pope.
"Since 2001 Cardinal Ratzinger, when head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, took many steps to apply the law of the Church to allegations and offences of child abuse with absolute thoroughness and scruple," Nichols said.His statement said there were two strands to the documentary, one highlighting cases of child abuse by priests, a crime he said the Catholic Church dealt with seriously, carefully and with transparency, the other attacking the Pope.
"This aspect of the programme is false and entirely misleading. It is false because it misrepresents two Vatican documents and uses them quite misleadingly in order to connect the horrors of child abuse to the person of the Pope," he said.The document first surfaced publicly in 2003, when it was widely reported in the U.S. media, and was used by lawyers for alleged victims of sexual abuse by priests in law suits against some American dioceses.
The U.S. scandal, in which priests known to have abused minors were transferred from parish to parish instead of being sacked, was centred in Boston. It led to the resignation of the city's archbishop, Cardinal Bernard Law, in December 2002.The BBC defended its documentary.
"The protection of children is clearly an issue of the strongest public interest," it said in a statement. "The BBC stands by the 'Panorama' programme, and invites viewers to make up their own minds."