WASHINGTON (AFP) Ã¢â‚¬â€œ Fresh pedophilia cover-up claims hit Pope Benedict XVI late Wednesday as church files suggested he had failed to take action against a US priest accused of molesting up to 200 deaf boys.
The documents obtained by The New York Times include correspondence between the accused priest, who worked at a school for deaf children in the US state of Wisconsin, and the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in 1996.
Ratzinger, then part of the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, was alerted to the accusations against Reverend Lawrence C. Murphy in two letters written to him by the Wisconsin archbishop.
But he failed to respond to the letters, and a secret canonical trial authorized by his deputy was halted after Murphy wrote to the future pope begging that the proceedings be stopped, the Times said.
"I simply want to live out the time that I have left in the dignity of my priesthood," Murphy wrote to the future pope, according to files. "I ask your kind assistance in this matter."
The documents contain no response from Ratzinger, and Murphy died two years later still a priest, the newspaper said.
Murphy worked at the school from 1950 to 1974, and despite multiple allegations against him was afterwards moved to another diocese where he was allowed to continue working freely with children, the Times reported.
The church files are included in four lawsuits against the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, brought by five men whose lawyers handed the long-secret documents to the newspaper over opposition from the Catholic Church.
The latest revelations come amid a wave of scandals over long-running sex abuse involving Catholic clergy in several other countries, including Ireland, Austria, the Netherlands and Switzerland.
The scandals have been inching closer to the pope himself.
In a case in his native Germany, the Munich and Freising diocese said recently that while archbishop there in 1980, Ratzinger approved giving church housing to a priest suspected of child sex abuse while he received "therapy."
The pope on Saturday apologized for child sex abuse carried out by Irish priests in a pastoral letter, but victims there argued it did not go far enough to address the scandal.
On Wednesday, an Irish bishop who was private secretary to three popes begged forgiveness from victims of child sex abuse in his diocese, as the Vatican accepted his resignation.
Bishop John Magee, who stepped aside a year ago pending an investigation into abuse claims, said he hoped that the probe's findings would help "towards healing for those who have been abused."
The Wisconsin church documents, the Times said, show that three successive archbishops in the state were informed that Murphy was sexually abusing children but the incidents were never reported to authorities, either criminal or civil.
Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi told the Times that the cases were "tragic" and said Murphy had abused "particularly vulnerable" children.
But he also pointed to the late notification of the Vatican in 1996, and noted that years earlier authorities had investigated and dismissed the case.
Victims of Catholic priests say they are angered not only by the scale of abuse committed by clergy, but also by what they deem a pattern of complicity and complacency by senior Vatican officials.
They say high-ranking church officials failed to take abuse claims seriously and effectively covered up crimes, rather than punishing priests and admitting their abuses.