A BRITISH documentary claimed today that Pope Benedict XVI was implicated in the systematic cover-up of child sex abuse by Catholic priests.
Over 20 years, the man formerly known as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger enforced a secret 1962 document on how bishops should deal with allegations of child abuse which included a code of secrecy, enforceable by excommunication, the BBC Panorama investigation said.
Father Tom Doyle, a canon solicitor reportedly sacked by the Vatican after criticising its handling of the issue, interpreted the document for the BBC and said it was an explicit written policy to cover up cases of child abuse which emphasised total Vatican control and did not mention victims.
The program also claims to have found seven priests facing child abuse investigations living in and around Vatican City.
But the Archbishop of Birmingham in central England, the Most Reverend Vincent Nichols, told Britian's Press Association (PA) that the documentary "misrepresents two Vatican documents and uses them quite misleadingly in order to connect the horrors of child abuse to the person of the Pope."
Speaking on behalf of bishops in England and Wales, he accused the BBC of "a deeply prejudiced attack on a revered world religious leader".
The Catholic Church also told PA that the document in question is not directly linked to child abuse but deals with the misuse of the confessional.
It said a second document mentioned in the documentary and issued in 2001 clarifies Church law and did not hinder investigations of child abuse allegations.
Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, the Archbishop of Westminster, central London, and spiritual leader of Catholics in England and Wales, has written to Mark Thompson, the BBC's director-general, to protest about the program.
Under fire ... a BBC investigation has implicated the Pope in claims of covering up child abuse within the Catholic Church / AP