Internal Catholic Church bickering over the handling of its sexual abuse scandal has escalated to a new level, with one cardinal accusing another of a cover-up.
The accusations were leveled by Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn of Vienna against Italian Cardinal Angelo Sodano, who served for 16 years from 1990 to 2006 as secretary of state, the Vatican's second-most important position.
Schoenborn, in what was supposed to have been a private conversation with Austrian newspaper editors last month, accused Sodano of having blocked an investigation of former Austrian Cardinal Hans Hermann Groer.
Austrian Catholic news agency Kathpress published a summary of the conversation Saturday, with Italian newspapers giving it prominent coverage in their Sunday editions.
Groer stepped down as archbishop of Vienna in 1995 after allegations that he had sexually abused young seminarians in the past. He died in 2003 never admitting guilt or facing charges.
Schoenborn told the journalists that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who then headed the Vatican's doctrinal department and is now pope, wanted a full scale investigation of Groer in 1995 but was blocked by Sodano, according to Kathpress.
The spat made the front pages of many newspapers, with the conservative Il Giornale headlining its story "A war in the Vatican over pedophilia."
According to Kathpress, Schoenborn criticized Sodano for dismissing reports of sexual abuse as "petty gossip" when he addressed the pope at the start of last month's Easter Sunday mass at the Vatican.
Last month the National Catholic Reporter, a publication in the United States, ran a series of articles which accused Sodano of turning a blind eye to another case of sexual abuse while he was the Vatican's number two from 1990 to 2006.
That case involved Father Marcial Maciel, founder of the Legionaries of Christ priestly order, who was discovered to have been a sexual molester and to have fathered at least one child.
That prompted the Vatican to say that accusations it once dismissed against Maciel, who died in 2008, were true.
Several editorials said the accusations against Sodano showed how deep the crisis over pedophilia in the Church has become. Sodano has yet to comment on the accusations.
Saturday, the pope accepted the resignation of Bishop Walter Mixa of Augsburg, the first bishop to quit in the pontiff's native Germany over the scandal that has rocked the Church in several European countries and the United States.
Mixa had admitted to hitting pupils and is now under investigation over accusations of sexual abuse, German prosecutors and church officials said.
In recent weeks, a Belgian bishop resigned after admitting he had sexually abused a boy, and three Irish bishops quit over their handling of sexual abuse cases.
Belgian bishops concluded a week-long visit to the Vatican Saturday with a news conference in which they spoke of the pain caused by the scandal which led to the resignation last month of the bishop of Bruges, Roger Vangheluwe, who stepped down after admitting he had sexually abused a boy years ago.