April 12, 2010 -- A defiant Massachusetts priest today accused Pope Benedict XVI of lying about his role in what the priest said was a cover up of "systemic" child abuse by Catholic priests.
The Rev. James Scahill of St. Michael's Parish in East Longmeadow made his comments one day after he took to the pulpit during Sunday mass and called for the pope to resign.
"I think there has been a cover-up, knowingly, to protect the image of the institution and the image of priesthood, even at the expense of children," Scahill told the ABC News affiliate WCVB. "By moving these pedophiles and ephebophiles from parish to parish, they placed innocent, unsuspecting children in harm's way. And also, by placing these weak men in further temptation, they frankly were as culpable of the victimization as the victimizer."
Pedophiles prey on prepubescent children while ephebophiles prey on adolescents.
Critics have accused the Pope of negligence in handling abuse cases while serving as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Church's enforcement agency, for more than two decades.
The Vatican in recent weeks has been rocked by allegations of abuse in Germany, Ireland and in the United States. The pope has come in for particular criticism for halting the effort to defrock a priest who admitted molesting boys in a school for the deaf.
Scahill said priests from even the smallest parishes have known for decades that their fellow clergymen were engaged in inappropriate behavior with children and it was naive to believe the highest echelons of the Church were unaware.
"The cover-up of the abuse of children and minors in this church has been systemic," the priest said.
"As it's being made clear, that this perversity is so pervasive, it's global, how can we suspect that the Vatican didn't know?"
The pope hasn't directly addressed the accusations, but his allies have said the pope did not condone coverups of sexual abuse.
"I would think he's not being truthful," Scahill said.
At another point the priest said that if he could ask the pope one question it would be, "Holy Father, are you telling the truth about the fact that the cover-up of these horrific crimes has been systemic in our church?"
Priest Stands By Call for Pope to Resign
Scahill immediately met with the wrath of his superiors and received a stern reproach from Springfield Bishop Timothy McDonnell, who compared the priest's betrayal to that of Doubting Thomas, the apostle who refused to believe in the resurrection of Jesus.
"There is a sad irony in that Father Scahill's remarks were delivered on Divine Mercy Sunday, a day on which the Church throughout the world re-affirms Christ's forgiveness, reconciliation and mercy towards all his followers. Still, there are always those who doubt, who like 'Doubting Thomas' in the Gospel refuse to believe their fellow disciples," the bishop said in a statement.
"The Holy Father, our bishops and Church leadership throughout the world know how difficult it is for those who have suffered abuse at the hands of clergy who should have been signs of God's love rather than inflictors of pain," he said.
Scahill said he was afraid the Church would take action against him, but he stood by his statement that the pope should resign.
"I've only spoken the truth. Sometimes the truth can be harsh, but for our diocesan spokesman to suggest that my statements were unfortunate, leads me to believe that. How can the truth be unfortunate, unless it's honing in on an unfortunate circumstance?" he said.
Scahill's interview came on the same day the Church clarified its policy on sex abuse, specifying that accused priests should be brought before civil authorities to face charges.
But a top aide to the pope created a fresh controversy when he blamed the church's child abuse scandal on homosexuality, not the church's requirement that priests be celibate.
The Vatican's second highest official, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, told reporters in Chile, "Many psychologists and psychiatrists have shown that there is no link between celibacy and pedophilia but many others have shown, I have recently been told, that there is a relationship between homosexuality and pedophilia,"
"This pathology is one that touches all categories of people, and priests to a lesser degree in percentage terms," Bertone said of gays. "The behavior of the priests in this case, the negative behavior, is very serious, is scandalous."
Bertone also asserted that the church had never impeded investigations of pedophilia by priests.
The Associated Press contributed to this report