Vatican City: The Vatican attacked The New York Times on Wednesday for its coverage of the sexual abuse of children by priests, rejecting accusations that Pope Benedict had mishandled a series of abuse cases before he was elected.
Signalling it had decided to take the gloves off in its reaction to coverage of sexual abuse, a Vatican statement referred specifically to two reporters and a columnist.
"I ask the Times to reconsider its attack mode about Pope Benedict XVI and give the world a more balanced view of a leader it can and should count on," said the 20-paragraph statement written by Cardinal William J Levada.
Levada, an American, succeeded the pope as head of the Vatican`s doctrinal body after the pontiff`s election in 2005.
The Vatican has denied any cover-up in the abuse of 200 deaf boys in the United States by Reverend Lawrence Murphy from the 1950s to the 1960s. The New York Times reported the Vatican and Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict, were warned about Murphy but he was not defrocked.
The Times said its reports were "based on meticulous reporting and documents”.
"Some of the particulars were confirmed by the Church, and so far no one has cast doubt on the facts we reported," the newspaper said in a statement issued late on Wednesday.
"The allegations of abuse within the Catholic Church are a serious subject, as the Vatican has acknowledged on many occasions. Any role the current pope may have played in responding to those allegations over the years is a significant aspect of this story."
Levada, the former Archbishop of San Francisco and a close aide to the pope, attacked the newspaper`s main story on the abuse scandal last week and an editorial as "deficient by any reasonable standards of fairness and defended the way the Church and the Vatican had handled the Murphy case.”
The statement offered a detailed criticism of the Times` coverage of the affair as well as an equally detailed defence of the pope, who Levada said had done much even before his election to change the way the church views cases of sexual abuse.
Earlier on Wednesday, conservative Catholic university students from the Opus Dei group rushed to the pope`s defence, attacking journalists who have written about the sexual abuse of children by priests as "sowers of mistrust”.
The some 4,000 students from around the world, in Rome for a convention, handed the beleaguered pope a letter of support during his weekly general audience in St Peter`s Square.
In his address, the pope made no direct reference to the scandal sweeping the church but said priests should always send a message of "hope, reconciliation and peace."