French bishops 'ashamed' of priests who molest

Roman Catholic bishops in France have sent a letter to Pope Benedict XVI saying they're ashamed of priests who molest children.

Suspicion is now cast on all Catholic clergy, letter says

Roman Catholic bishops in France have sent a letter to Pope Benedict XVI saying they're ashamed of priests who molest children.

Pope Benedict XVI has received the support of Roman Catholic bishops in France after the latest sexual abuse allegations against Catholic clergy. ((Gregorio Borgia/Associated Press))

"Those who commit these acts have disfigured the church, wounded Christian communities and cast suspicion on all members of the clergy," the bishops said.

The letter was released Friday after the bishops met in Lourdes, site of the famous Catholic shrine.

"All feel shame and regret when faced with the abominable acts carried out by certain priests," the bishops said.

They also addressed a message of support to the Pope, saying the sexual abuse "is being used in a campaign to attack you personally."

Scandal taints clergy in Italy

Meanwhile, the Vatican has yet to address directly another child sex abuse scandal in Europe bearing similarities to a case in Wisconsin involving deaf children.

Dozens of deaf men and women in Italy are alleging that priests and others in the Catholic Church sexually assaulted them over several years.

The Associated Press reported Friday that only now, a year after the case became public, is the Vatican directing the diocese to interview the alleged victims to hear the complaints.

In a signed statement last year, the 67 former pupils at a school for the deaf in Verona described sexual abuse, pedophilia and corporal punishment from the 1950s to the 1980s.

They named 24 priests, church brothers and lay religious men at the Antonio Provolo Institute for the Deaf.

Milwaukee deaf school implicated

On Thursday, the Vatican lashed out at a New York Times report on a similar case in the United States amid weeks of headlines linking Pope Benedict XVI to charges of covering up for priests who have molested children.

The Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore, published a front-page editorial, claiming there is a media conspiracy to smear the Pope's name.

The paper denounced what it called "the evident and ignoble intent to wound Benedict XVI and his closest advisers at any cost."

The New York Times report, based on internal church documents, said the Vatican halted the investigation of a Wisconsin priest, Lawrence Murphy, accused of molesting as many as 200 boys at a Milwaukee school for the deaf from 1950 to 1975.

The report also said the future pope himself was kept closely apprised of the case when he was still Joseph Ratzinger, the archbishop of Munich and Freising.

Ratzinger copied on memo: report

Benedict has also come under pressure over a case dating back to his time as archbishop in his native Germany.

The Munich archdiocese has said Ratzinger was involved in a 1980 decision to allow a German priest who had been accused of abusing boys, Rev. Peter Hullermann, to be transferred there for therapy.

However, Ratzinger's then-deputy, Gerhard Gruber, said earlier this month he took full responsibility for a subsequent decision to allow the priest to return to pastoral duties.

Hullermann was convicted in 1986 of sexual abuse during a later posting. The New York Times reported Friday that the future pope was copied on a memo saying the priest would quickly be returned to pastoral work, and that church officials could not rule out that Ratzinger read it.

With files from The Associated Press