VATICAN CITY — The Vatican on Wednesday tried to defuse anger over remarks by the pope's top aide that the problem behind the pedophile priest scandals is homosexuality and not the church's celibacy requirement.
Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Holy See's secretary of state, outraged gay advocacy groups, politicians and even the French government with his remarks Monday in Chile.
"Many psychologists and psychiatrists have demonstrated that there is no relation between celibacy and pedophilia," the Italian cardinal said. "But many others have demonstrated, I have been told recently, that there is a relation between homosexuality and pedophilia. That is true. That is the problem."
Responding to reporters' questions, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, a Vatican spokesman, contended that Bertone was not talking about pedophilia in society at large, nor making any medical or psychological assertions. Rather, Bertone was "evidently" referring to statistics, recently supplied by the Holy See's own prosecutor handling sex abuse allegations against clergy, Lombardi said in a written statement.
Shortly after Bertone's comments at a news conference in Santiago, Chile's gay rights advocates denounced what they called a "perverse strategy" by the Vatican to "shirk its own ethical and legal responsibility."
The French government bristled at what it saw as an offense to human rights efforts. "This is an unacceptable association that we condemn," French Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said. "France reiterates its resolute commitment to the fight against discrimination and prejudice linked to sexual orientation and gender identity."