ROME — A top American cardinal on Monday defended Pope Benedict's handling of sexual abuse cases by clergy, saying he should be praised not criticized, as advocates for abuse victims demanded that the Vatican release its secret files on pedophile priests.
Cardinal William Levada told a Vatican-backed symposium on safeguarding children that Benedict had been "instrumental" in implementing standards to crack down on pedophile clergy as well as supportive of U.S. bishops' efforts to fight the abuse.
Before becoming pontiff, Benedict held Levada's job as the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the church office ensuring doctrinal purity and, in recent decades, also shaping the Holy See's policies on handling abuse cases involving clergy.
As the symposium's keynote opening speaker, Levada lamented that the pope "has had to suffer attacks by the media over these past years in various parts of the world when he should receive the gratitude of us all."
SNAP, a U.S.-based support and advocacy group for those abused as minors by clergy, was dismissive of the gathering.
"True change and child protection comes through accountability from secular authorities," a SNAP official, Joelle Casteix, said in a statement. She contended the Vatican "still cannot do the simplest, cheapest, and most child-friendly action possible: Make public decades of secret files on clergy sex offenders and enablers."