BOGOTA — A senior cardinal defended the Roman Catholic Church's practice of frequently not reporting sexually abusive priests to the police, saying Thursday it would have been like testifying against a family member at trial.
Colombian Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos also said in a radio interview that Pope Benedict XVI, formerly Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, was involved in a 2001 decision to praise a French bishop for shielding a priest who had been convicted of raping minors.
"The law in nations with a well-developed judiciary does not force anyone to testify against a child, a father, against other people close to the suspect," Castrillon told RCN radio. "Why would they ask that of the church? That's the injustice. It's not about defending a pedophile; it's about defending the dignity and the human rights of a person, even the worst of criminals."
While the church stands by "those who truly were victims" of sexual abuse, he added, "John Paul II, that holy pope, was not wrong when he defended his priests so that they were not, due to economic reasons, treated like criminal pedophiles without due process."
Castrillon, 80, was an influential figure at the Vatican before his recent retirement from active duty, heading the Vatican's office for clergy, as well as efforts to reconcile with ultraconservatives who had broken away from the Catholic Church.
The cardinal also accused unnamed insiders and enemies elsewhere of feeding the sex abuse scandals hurting the church.
"Unfortunately, there are … useful idiots inside (the church) who lend themselves to this type of persecution," Castrillon told RCN, using a term for people duped into sympathizing with a foe of their interests.
He would not give details, however, saying that "since I'm not stupid, I don't tell everything I know. Only drunks, children and idiots tell, and I'm not a child, nor a drunk, nor stupid."
This week, after a 2001 letter about the French bishop made news, a Catholic group in the United States announced it would find someone else to celebrate a special Mass this weekend marking the fifth anniversary of Pope Benedict XVI's inauguration. Advocates for abuse victims had objected to Castrillon's presence.