The controversy surrounding the Roman Catholic Church continues to grow and allegations of inaction or attempts at stifling scandals in order to protect the reputation of the Church are being increasingly levelled directly at Pope Benedict XVI himself.

It has been revealed that the present Pope showed great reluctance to defrock an abusive Californian priest in the 80s. Correspondence implicating the Pope was released by lawyers for the victims on Friday.

The Pope, then known as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, was the head of the Office for the Doctrine of the Faith, which deals with cases of sexual misconduct within the Church. In this capacity, it is alleged he failed to act as the Vatican's watchdog for morals and doctrinal issues.

Members of the diocese in California first wrote to the Vatican in 1981, asking that the priest in the case under review, Stephen Kiesle, a convicted offender, be defrocked. Four years later the Oakland diocese officials were still awaiting a reply and when it eventually came, in 1985, Cardinal Ratzinger, while admitting the “gravity” of Kiesle's case said he was reluctant to take action immediately because he needed to consider the effect it will have on the “good of the Universal Church”. The priest was finally defrocked in 1987.

The Church's internal justice system for dealing with abuse allegations has come under attack because of claims by victims that their accusations were ignored by Bishops more concerned about protecting the Church and by the Congregation, which was headed by Cardinal Ratzinger from 1981 until he was elected Pope in 2005. However, faced with mounting anger and almost daily accusations of inaction and callousness towards victims of sexual abuse, the Church has decided to act.

On Monday, it will post on its website a concise guide for the layman on how the Congregation handles sex abuse allegations. Also on Friday, the Vatican said that Pope Benedict XVI would meet more abuse victims and that transparency in dealing with abuse allegations is an “urgent requirement” for the Church.

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