MISTAKES OF THE PAST

APRIL 5 2010 10:52h

French bishop regrets sheltering paedophile priest

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Pope Benedict XVI is facing growing anger over the Catholic Church‘s sexual abuse scandal and allegations that the church covered up crimes.

PARIS, April 5, 2010 (AFP) - A retired French bishop said Monday that it was a mistake to take a convicted Canadian paedophile priest into his diocese in the 1980s but added that "back then, that's how the church operated."

"We were being helpful. We were asked to take in an undesirable priest and we agreed," said Jacques Gaillot, the former bishop of Evreux, west of Paris.

"This was more than 20 years ago. It was a mistake," said Gaillot in an interview to Le Parisien newspaper.

Pope Benedict XVI is facing growing anger over the Catholic Church's sexual abuse scandal and allegations that the church hierarchy worked to cover up crimes committed by their priests.

In 1987, Gaillot agreed to take in Canadian priest Denis Vadeboncoeur, two years after he was sentenced to 20 months in prison by a Canadian court for sexually assaulting children.

Gaillot knew of his conviction and yet appointed him priest and vicar in 1988 to a parish in western France, allowing him to have regular contact with children.

A French criminal court convicted Vadeboncoeur again in 2005 for raping several minors between 1989 and 1992 and he was sentenced to 12 years in prison.

During the trial, Gaillot expressed regret for his decision to provide refuge for Vadeboncoeur.

The retired bishop said that "things have changed within the church. We now let justice authorities step in. We are slowly coming out of this culture of secrecy."

The archbishop of Paris and head of the Catholic Church in France, Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois, on Sunday said media attention on the child abuse scandals were a "smear campaign" targeting the pope.

The cardinal said the cases now being widely reported date back several decades. Of the 20,000 priests practicing in France, about 30 have been convicted and jailed for sex crimes and not all of them involving paedophilia, he said.

France has not seen the sort of large-scale paedophile scandals that have rocked the Irish, German and US churches, but there have been some cases such as the arrest last week of a Christian radio station director.

Father Jacques Gaimard, who worked in the northern Normandy region, was charged on Wednesday with sexual assaults on a minor in 1992 and 1993 and released on bail.