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Benedict emerges and defends his abuse record

Pope Francis, left, meets Pope emeritus Benedict XVI in Castel Gandolfo Saturday, March 23. Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI has emerged from his self-imposed silence inside the Vatican to publish a lengthy letter to one of Italy's most well-known atheists. In it, he defends his record on handling sexually abusive priests and discusses everything from evolution to theology to the figure of Jesus Christ. Excerpts of the letter were published Tuesday by La Repubblica, the same newspaper which just two weeks ago published a similar letter from Pope Francis to its own atheist publisher. AP PHOTO

Pope Francis, left, meets Pope emeritus Benedict XVI in Castel Gandolfo Saturday, March 23. Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI has emerged from his self-imposed silence inside the Vatican to publish a lengthy letter to one of Italy's most well-known atheists. In it, he defends his record on handling sexually abusive priests and discusses everything from evolution to theology to the figure of Jesus Christ. Excerpts of the letter were published Tuesday by La Repubblica, the same newspaper which just two weeks ago published a similar letter from Pope Francis to its own atheist publisher. AP PHOTO

Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI has emerged from his self-imposed silence inside the Vatican walls to publish a lengthy letter to one of Italy’s most well-known atheists. In it, he denies having covered up for sexually abusive priests and discusses everything from evolution to the figure of Jesus Christ.

Excerpts of the letter were published yesterday by La Repubblica, the same newspaper that just two weeks ago published a similar letter from Pope Francis to its own atheist publisher.

The letters indicate that the two men in white – who live across the Vatican gardens from one another – are pursuing an active campaign to engage nonbelievers. It’s a melding of papacies past and present that has no precedent and signals that the popes – while very different in style, personality and priorities – are of the same mind on many issues and might even be collaborating on them.

Benedict wrote the letter to Piergiorgio Odifreddi, an Italian atheist and mathematician who in 2011 wrote a book Dear Pope, I’m Writing to You. The book was Odifreddi’s reaction to Benedict’s classic Introduction to Christianity, perhaps his best-known work.

In his book, Odifreddi posed a series of polemical arguments about the Catholic faith, including the church’s sex abuse scandal.

In his letter, Benedict denies personal responsibility, saying: “I never tried to cover these things up.”

“That the power of evil penetrated so far into the interior world of the faith is a suffering that we must bear, but at the same time we must do everything to prevent it from repeating,” he wrote, according to Repubblica.

While Vatican officials have long insisted that Benedict did more than anyone in the church to confront the problem of abusive clergy, Benedict’s letter marked the first time he himself had publicly denied personal responsibility for the scandal.

Benedict has been seen only a handful of times since his retirement. Repubblica’s publication of his letter came out of the blue and just two weeks after a letter on almost the exact same subject was penned by Francis on the same pages.

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