The version of events given out by the Vatican in its defence of Pope Benedict XVI's actions when he was still known as Cardinal Ratzinger, head of the Archdiocese of Munich, has come in for greater scrutiny suggesting that the Church might be involved in a further cover-up. How much did the present Pope really know about widespread abuse in the Church and in his own Archdiocese when he was Cardinal Ratzinger of Munich?

A memorandum uncovered by the New York Times suggests that Cardinal Ratzinger was aware that a priest, Father Hullermann, had been given back his pastoral duties, a short while after he started psychotherapy. The priest subsequently went back to abusing children. The new documents indicate that the Cardinal's office was fully informed of the fact that the offender had returned to working with children.

Sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests and the subsequent cover up of that abuse by senior clergymen has been reported from the U.S., Ireland, Spain, Italy, The Netherlands, Switzerland, Austria and Germany. A new case has now been reported in France with Father Jacques Breton being charged on Friday of sexual harassment and possession of pornographic material.

The Church has recently admitted that “bad mistakes” had been committed in the handling of the case of Father Hullermann but said those responsible were Cardinal Ratzinger's subordinates, especially Monsignor Gruber, who was the Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Munich in the 1980s when the abuse allegedly took place.

The new documents show that the future Pope not only led a meeting on January 15, 1980, approving the transfer of the priest to his district, but that he was also kept informed about the priest's subsequent reassignment.

The Church initially claimed that Father Hullermann had been allowed to return to work because of the “the statements of the treating psychologist”.

That was flatly denied by Dr Werner Huth the psychiatrist in question, who said he had warned church officials not to allow Father Hullermann to work with children from the very outset. Over the following years, church officials repeatedly transferred Father Hullermann to new parishes and allowed him to work with children, even after the 1986 conviction for sexually abusing boys. He was suspended only this month as the sex abuse scandals came to light in the Pope's native Germany.

Meanwhile, Catholic Bishops in France echoed the words used by the Pope in an Episcopal letter he sent to Irish Bishops last week. In a “cordial message of support” sent to Pope Benedict XVI, the French Bishops expressed “shame” and “regret” at the abominable acts of paedophilia . “We associate ourselves with the strong words you expressed while addressing the victims,” the Bishops wrote in their message published in the holy city of Lourdes.

The letter of the Bishops comes at a time when revelations are being made in France too.

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