Friday, March 26, 2010

French priest under investigation in sex case

Last updated March 26, 2010 10:16 a.m. PT

French priest under investigation in sex case

A prosecutor says that preliminary charges have been filed against a priest in a small town southeast of Paris accused of sexual assault and possession of pornographic photos of a child parishioner.

The prosecutor of Troyes, Alex Perrin, says police detained the priest, who lives in Marcilly-le-Hayer, following a complaint of sexual assault by a 22-year-old. Perrin stressed that the priest contests the assault allegations.

Perrin said Friday that police recovered two or three photos of a pornographic nature involving a minor from the priest's home.

He says the priest was charged Wednesday with "sexual assault" and "illegal possession of images characteristic of child pornography" and freed.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

VATICAN CITY -- A conservative religious order that enjoyed the favor of John Paul II apologized to victims of sexual abuse by its founder.

French bishops said in a letter to Pope Benedict XVI that they were ashamed of priests who committed "abominable acts" by sexually abusing children.

The Vatican has been on the defensive in recent days as criticism over the handling of some of the abuse probes in the United States and in Benedict's German homeland have threatened to engulf the papacy.

Benedict, in his previous role as a Vatican-based Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, directed the Holy See office that deals with sex allegations. Earlier, as Munich archbishop he was the top authority in the diocese in his German homeland.

The letter to Benedict from French bishops, and a Web site statement by the Legionaries of Christ, were the latest expressions of shame and regret from local churches or religious orders.

Both contained expressions of solidarity toward Benedict for his handling of abuse cases.

Abuse victims from the United States to Europe have been demanding that Benedict take responsibility for what he did or didn't do, both in his tenure in Germany and as the director of a Vatican policy that centralized the cases in Rome under a cloak of confidentiality.

French bishops said in their letter to Benedict that they are ashamed of priests who molested and raped children. The bishops said these "abominable acts" had "disfigured the church, wounded Christian communities and cast suspicion on all the members of the clergy."

But they also expressed solidarity with Benedict, saying the sexual abuse scandals were "being used in a campaign to attack you personally."

Thanking Benedict for his role in investigating abuse allegation was an international religious order which long had been held out as a model of staunch faith by the pontiff's late predecessor, John Paul II.

Leaders of the Legionaries of Christ said in a statement on its Web site that at first they couldn't believe the accusations against the late Mexican prelate Marcial Maciel, including molestation of seminarians and that he had a long relationship with a woman and fathered a daughter with her.

But they said it was thanks to an investigation by the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, under the direction of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the future Benedict, that they were convinced the allegations were true.

"Yet again we express our pain and regret to each and every one of the persons who were harmed by the actions of our founder," the Legionaries' leadership said.

"We want to ask forgiveness from all those people who accused him in the past and who weren't given credence or who weren't listened to because in that moment we couldn't conceive of this behavior," the Legionaries said.

They expressed "gratitude" to Benedict for having sent five bishops to investigate the order around the world. The inspections is complete, and the order said it was "obediently" awaiting Benedict's instructions.

But while churchmen rallied to Benedict's side, the Holy See itself was again on the defense. Spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi reiterated the Vatican's insistence that Benedict didn't know about a Munich archdiocese decision to return a priest in therapy for pedophilia to pastoral work.

A report in Friday's New York Times said Ratzinger was copied in on a memo about the decision.

Lombardi circulated a statement issued by the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising stating that the decision to return the priest to pastoral work was made by the vicar general of that time, Rev. Gerhard Gruber.

Two weeks ago, Gruber told The Associated Press in a telephone interview that he was in sole charge of staffing decisions during Ratzinger's tenure as archbishop, and that Benedict wouldn't have been aware of his decision because his case load was too big.

Victims worldwide have been demanding top diocesan bishops and Vatican officials take responsibility for frequent cover-ups of sexual abuse by clergy or the shuffling of molester priests from parish to parish.

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