Media revel in abuse scandal, says cardinal

A Latin American cardinal tipped as the next pope has launched an extraordinary attack on the US media by comparing its coverage of church sex scandals to persecution by Nero, Hitler and Stalin.

Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga - considered a rising star at the Vatican - accused American newspapers and broadcasters of an anti-Catholic "fury" in the way they reported revelations that the church allowed paedophile priests to abuse children.

In an interview with an Italian Catholic magazine, 30 Giorni, he branded Ted Turner, the founder of CNN and the vice-chairman of AOL Time Warner, as "openly anti-Catholic".

"Not to mention newspapers like the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Boston Globe, which were protagonists of what I do not hesitate to define as a persecution against the church," Cardinal Rodriguez Maradiaga said.

Excerpts of the interview were made available in advance of publication this week.

The magazine will be coming out in the week that American bishops meet in Dallas to draw up disciplinary measures for abusers - a meeting the New York Times has described as possibly the most important in the history of the American church.

Cardinal Rodriguez Maradiaga said the media was venting anger at the Catholic church's support for a Pales tinian homeland, and for its hostility to abortion, euthanasia and the death penalty.

He said abusers and clerics who protected abusers should be punished, but defended Cardinal Bernard Law, whose botched handling of the issue of paedophile priests in Boston triggered the crisis.

Cardinal Law was, he said, the victim of questioning "with methods that recall the dark days of Stalinist trials of churchmen of eastern Europe".

Since other cases had been revealed in other dioceses, the press had acted with "a fury which reminds me of the times of Diocletian and Nero and more recently, Stalin and Hitler".

A Honduran polyglot who negotiated peace deals with rebels, worked with the poor and has degrees in philosophy and theology, Cardinal Rodriguez Maradiaga, 59, has been tipped to succeed John Paul partly on the basis of his reputation for being media savvy.

Many expect the next pope to be from the developing world, and Latin America will have one of the biggest voting blocs in the conclave.

The cardinal's strident vocabulary is likely to end his honeymoon with the US media, but it may do him no harm among those cardinals who want a more robust response to recent criticism of the church.

Several Catholic publications in Italy have said that bishops were not responsible for the actions of their priests, and that the US was overrun with lawyers wanting to sue the church.