Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has denied any role in covering up child abuse by priests, in his first public comments since retirement.
The former Pope addressed the issue in a detailed letter to a prominent atheist, which also covered many other matters.
It is thought to be the first time that Benedict has publicly rejected personal responsibility for covering up abuse.
Some critics say he must have known of efforts to protect abusive priests.
Benedict’s letter, to the professor of mathematics Piergiorgio Odifreddi, was published in La Repubblica newspaper after the professor sought the former Pope’s permission.
His comments are the first to be released publicly since he left office, saying he would retreat to a life of prayer. He was apparently concerned not to have a public role that might impinge on his successor, Pope Francis.
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has denied any role in covering up child abuse by priests, in his first public comments since retirement
Regarding the repeated allegations of abuse which arose during his pontificate, Benedict denied he had suppressed investigation of paedophile priests.
He wrote: “I never tried to cover up these things. That the power of evil penetrates to such a point in the interior world of the faith is, for us, a source of suffering.
“On the one hand we must accept that suffering, and on the other, at the same time, we must do everything possible so that such cases aren’t repeated.
“It’s also not a motive for comfort to know that, according to sociological research, the percentage of priests guilty of these crimes is no higher than in other comparable professional categories.
“In any event, one must not stubbornly present this deviance as if it were a nastiness specific to Catholicism.”
Benedict’s comments were a direct response to points made in Prof. Piergiorgio Odifreddi’s 2011 book Dear Pope, I’m Writing to You, which in turn was a response to Benedict’s Introduction to Christianity.
Benedict also responds to several other criticisms made by the Italian, including whether theology can be considered a science, and what can be known about Jesus as an historical figure.
Prof. Piergiorgio Odifreddi said he appreciated the tone of his dialogue with Benedict, and that, while they might disagree on almost everything, they at least had one aim in common: “The search for the truth, with a capital <<T>>.”
John Paul II could be declared a saint this year after a Vatican committee approved a second miracle attributed to the former pope’s intercession.
The Congregation for the Causes of Saints ruled an “inexplicable recovery” on 1 May 2011 was due to the late Pope’s intercession, Ansa reported.
Earlier that same day he had been beatified after a first miracle was attributed to his intervention.
Pope Francis must now give his approval before a canonization date is set.
Canonization is the final step in the official process that declares a deceased person to be a saint.
At a plenary meeting of the Congregation on Tuesday, cardinals and bishops mooted a canonization ceremony taking place in December, sources told Ansa.
One possible date would be 8 December, on which Catholics celebrate the feast of the Immaculate Conception, which this year falls on a Sunday.
John Paul II could be canonized at the same time as John XXIII, Vatican sources suggested. Venerated by Catholics as “the good pope”, John XXIII was elected in 1958 and convened the Second Vatican Council in 1962, but died the following year before it was finished.
John Paul II could be declared a saint this year after a Vatican committee approved a second miracle attributed to him
Canonization requires the attribution of one further miracle to the intercession of the candidate after they have been beatified.
The Vatican has not revealed details about the second miracle in John Paul II’s case.
It was reportedly deemed an “inexplicable recovery” by a panel of doctors before being approved last month by a board of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints’ theologians.
John Paul II died in 2005 aged 84 and was beatified by his successor Benedict XVI in May 2011.
Among a crowd hundreds of thousands strong on St Peter’s Square was French nun Marie Simon-Pierre, who says she was cured of Parkinson’s Disease after praying for the intervention of the late pope little more than a month after he died.
Some questioned the Church’s speed in beatifying John Paul II just six years after his death.
Although widely regarded as one of the great popes of modern times, his 26-year pontificate was tarnished by his handling of the clerical sex abuse scandal that has rocked the global Church.
Critics say other of the Church’s deep-seated problems – such as its dysfunctional management and financial scandals at the Vatican bank – stem from shortcomings of his pontificate.
John Paul II reformed the sainthood process in 1983, making it faster, simpler, and cheaper. The office of “Devil’s advocate” – an official whose job was to try to knock down the case for sainthood – was eliminated, and the required number of miracles was dropped.
The idea was to lift up contemporary role models of holiness in order to convince a jaded secular world that sanctity is alive in the here and now, says veteran Vatican analyst John Allen.
The result was that John Paul II beatified and canonized more people than all previous popes combined.
More than 100 cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church have gathered to Vatican for a new pope election. At some point, white smoke billowing from the Sistine Chapel will show that a decision has been made.
What goes on behind the closed doors before the smoke appears?
Here are 10 lesser-known facts about the papal conclave.
1. It’s a lock-in. Conclave comes from the Latin “cum-clave” meaning literally “with key” – the cardinal-electors will be locked in the Sistine Chapel each day until Benedict XVI’s successor is chosen. The tradition dates back to 1268, when after nearly three years of deliberation the cardinals had still not agreed on a new pope, prompting the people of Rome to hurry things up by locking them up and cutting their rations. Duly elected, the new pope, Gregory X, ruled that in future cardinals should be sequestered from the start of the conclave.
2. Spying is tricky. During the conclave they are allowed no contact with the outside the world – no papers, no TV, no phones, no Twitter. And the world is allowed no contact with them. The threat of excommunication hangs over any cardinal who breaks the rules.
Before the conclave starts, the Sistine Chapel is swept for recording equipment and hidden cameras. It is a myth that a fake floor is laid to cater for anti-bugging devices… Anti-bugging devices are used, and the floor is raised, but only to protect the marble mosaic floor.
3. Portable loos play an essential role. Until 2005, the cardinals endured Spartan conditions in makeshift “cells” close to the Sistine Chapel. They slept on hard beds and were issued with chamber pots. Pope John Paul II changed that with the construction of a five-storey 130-room guest house near St Peter’s – Domus Sanctae Marthae (St Martha’s House). But cardinals still have to rough it while voting. In an interview with the Catholic News Service last week, Antonio Paolucci, the director of the Vatican Museum said: “I believe they may be installing portable chemical toilets inside the chapel.”
4. An “interregnum” is ending. The pontificate used to be known as a “reign” – hence the period between two popes being called an interregnum (“between reigns”). Many of the regal trappings of the papacy were set aside by Pope Paul VI, who began his pontificate in 1963 with a coronation, but never wore the beehive-shaped papal tiara again.
More than 100 cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church have gathered to Vatican for a new pope election
5. Counted votes are sewn up. The cardinals hold one vote on day one and then two each morning and afternoon until a candidate wins a two-thirds majority. Each writes his choice on a slip of paper, in disguised handwriting, and folds it in half. Cardinals then process to the altar one by one and place the ballots in an urn. The papers are mixed, counted, opened and scrutinized by three cardinals, the third of whom passes a needle and thread through the counted votes. At the end of each morning and afternoon session the papers are burned.
6. Chemicals color the smoke. Those 115 ballot papers produce an unusual amount of smoke… which pours out of a chimney specially installed on the roof of the Sistine Chapel. A chemical is mixed with the paper to produce black smoke when voting is inconclusive, or white smoke when a pope has been elected. But even the white smoke looks dark against a bright sky, so to avoid any possible confusion, white smoke is accompanied by the pealing of bells. In 2005, though, the official responsible for authorizing the bells was temporarily occupied with other duties, so there was a period of confusion while white smoke billowed out, and the bells of St Peter’s remained silent.
7. Robes are prepared in S, M and L. The Pope has to look the part when he is presented to the faithful from a balcony overlooking St Peter’s Square. So papal tailors Gammarelli prepare three sets of vestments – in small, medium and large sizes. These will include a white cassock, a white silk sash, a white zucchetto (skullcap), red leather shoes and a red velvet mozzetta or capelet with ermine trim – a style revived by Benedict XVI. The Pope dresses by himself, donning a gold-corded pectoral cross and a red embroidered stole. (Popes traditionally wore red, but in 1566 St Pius V, a Dominican, decided to continue wearing his white robes. Only the Pope’s red mozzetta, capelet and shoes remain from the pre-1566 days.)
8. Huge bets are laid. Experts suggest more than $15 million will be wagered as people guess which cardinal will get the nod – making this the world’s most bet-upon non-sporting event. It’s not a new phenomenon. In 1503 betting on the pope was already referred to as “an old practice”. Pope Gregory XIV was so cheesed off that in 1591 he threatened punters with excommunication, but the gambling continues unabated. Prominent Italian and Latin American names currently lead the field.
9. Just say yes. Technically, an elected Pope can refuse to take up the position, but it’s not really done to turn down the Holy Spirit. That said, few relish the prospect of leading the world’s largest Church, beset as it is at the moment with falling congregation numbers, sex abuse scandals and internal wrangling. So many new popes are overcome with emotion after their election that the first room they enter, to dress for the balcony scene, is commonly known as the Room of Tears.
10. There is no gender test. Chairs with a large hole cut in the seat are sometimes thought to have been used to check the sex of a new Pope. The story goes that the aim of the checks was to prevent a repeat of the scandal of “Pope Joan”, a legendary female cardinal supposedly elected pope in the 14th Century. Most historians agree that the Joan story is nonsense. Examples of the chairs, the sedes stercoraria, are apparently held in museums, but their purpose is unclear. One unconfirmed theory is that they were used to check that the new pope had not been castrated.
Cardinals have begun voting to elect a new Pope at the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel.
The 115 cardinal-electors were locked in the chapel after swearing an oath of secrecy.
They will vote four times daily until two-thirds can agree on a candidate.
The election was prompted by the surprise abdication of Benedict XVI. There is no clear frontrunner to take over from him as head of the Roman Catholic Church.
The 85-year-old Benedict stepped down last month, saying he was no longer strong enough to lead the Church, which is beset by problems ranging from a worldwide scandal over child sex abuse to allegations of corruption at the Vatican Bank.
His resignation and the recent damage to the Church’s reputation make the choice of the cardinal-electors especially hard to predict.
They will weigh pressure for a powerful manager to reform the Vatican against calls for a new pope able to inspire the faithful, our correspondent adds.
At 16:30 local time on Tuesday, 115 cardinal-electors – all under 80, as those over 80 are excluded – entered the Sistine Chapel for the secret conclave to select Benedict’s successor, chanting the traditional Litany of the Saints.
Each man in turn stepped up and placed his hands on the Gospel to swear an oath in Latin.
Afterwards Msgr Guido Marini, papal master of ceremonies, called out the words “Extra omnes” – “Everybody out” – and the chapel doors were locked to outsiders.
From now on the cardinals will eat, vote and sleep in closed-off areas until a new pope is chosen.
Jamming devices in the Sistine Chapel should block all electronic communication and anyone tweeting would in any case risk being excommunicated.
Cardinals were now expected listen to a meditation by elderly Maltese Cardinal Prosper Grech before holding a first vote, after which their ballot papers will be burned.
The smoke that will drift out of the chapel’s chimney early in the evening is likely to be black – meaning no Pope has been elected.
Cardinals have begun voting to elect a new Pope at the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel
From Wednesday, two votes will be held each morning and afternoon – with ballots burned after each session – until one candidate attains a two-thirds majority (77 votes).
Then the smoke will be white, meaning the 266th bishop of Rome will have been chosen.
Earlier on Tuesday the cardinals attended a “Mass for the Election of the Supreme Pontiff” in St Peter’s Basilica.
In his homily, the Dean of the College of Cardinals, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, praised the “brilliant pontificate” of Pope Benedict and implored God to grant another “Good Shepherd” to lead the church.
He outlined the mission Catholics believe was given by Jesus Christ to St Peter – the first Pope – emphasizing love and sacrifice, evangelization and the unity of the church.
The speech was more measured in tone than the address given in 2005 by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger before he became Pope Benedict, which featured a fiery attack on the “dictatorship of relativism”.
On Tuesday morning several cardinals took to Twitter to say goodbye to their followers before being cut off from the outside world.
“Last tweet before the conclave: May Our Father hear and answer with love and mercy all prayers and sacrifices offered for a fruitful outcome,” South African Cardinal Wilfrid Napier tweeted.
Benedict – now known as Pope emeritus – resigned on 28 February after eight years in office, citing ill health. He was the first Pope in six centuries to do so.
As Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in 2005, he was the marked favorite ahead of the conclave and was elected pope after just four rounds of voting.
The vote for his successor is expected to take much longer.
After 10 general congregations open to all cardinals, regardless of age – at which 160 cardinals spoke of the issues facing the Church and the qualities needed by its next leader – no clear frontrunner has emerged.
“Last time around there was a man of stature, three or four times that of any other cardinal,” French Cardinal Philippe Barbarin told reporters.
“That is not the case this time around. Therefore, the choice has to be made among one, two, three, four… a dozen candidates.
“We still don’t really know anything. We will have to wait for the results of the first ballot.”
New York Archbishop Cardinal Timothy Dolan told his priests there was hope that a new Pope could be chosen by Thursday.
Candidates named as contenders include Cardinal Angelo Scola of Milan, Brazil’s Odilo Scherer, and Cardinal Dolan himself – though he told one interviewer anyone who thought he was in with a chance might be “smoking marijuana”.
Conclave in numbers
Two-thirds – or 77 – need to agree on papal candidate
Four votes per day, two in the morning and two in the evening
Pope Benedict XVI has condemned “unregulated capitalism” for contributing to world tension, in 2013 New Year address to worshippers.
The Pope also thanked the world’s peacemakers and said humanity had “an innate vocation for peace”.
The Roman Catholic Church leader spoke at a Mass in the Vatican, then greeted a crowd outside St Peter’s Basilica.
Pope Benedict deplored “hotbeds of tension and conflict caused by growing instances of inequality between rich and poor”.
Those “hotbeds” also grew out of “the prevalence of a selfish and individualistic mindset which also finds expression in an unregulated financial capitalism”, as well as “various forms of terrorism and crime”, he said.
Pope Benedict XVI has condemned unregulated capitalism for contributing to world tension, in 2013 New Year address to worshippers
The 85-year-old pontiff delivered a prayer for peace to the crowd in St Peter’s Square after his homily at Mass.
“The peacemakers are many, but they are not loud. As leaven in dough, they raise humanity according to God’s plan,” he said.
Comparing the new year to a journey, he prayed that it “may lead on a path to peace for every person and every family, for each country and for the whole world”.