VATICAN CITY Pope Benedict, still struggling to control the damage a sexual abuse scandal has done to the Catholic Church's image, on Monday bluntly told his top advisers that they should not trade accusations in public.
The Vatican issued an unusual statement in which it effectively said the pope had censured Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn of Vienna, who last month publicly accused Cardinal Angelo Sodano of having covered up sexual abuse.
"Regarding accusations against a cardinal, we remind everyone that, in the Church, only the pope has the authority to accuse a cardinal," said the statement, a rare case of the Church making its internal bickering public.
The statement -- issued after a meeting between the pope, Schoenborn, Sodano, and secretary of state Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone -- said Church officials had to "show due respect" for each other.
Last month Schoenborn criticized Sodano, who served from 1990 to 2006 as secretary of state, the Vatican's second-most important position.
Schoenborn, in a conversation with Austrian newspaper editors, accused Sodano of having blocked an investigation of into sexual abuse by former Austrian Cardinal Hans Hermann Groer.
Groer stepped down as archbishop of Vienna in 1995 after allegations that he had sexually abused young seminarians. 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.
It said that during the four-way meeting all sides had "cleared up and resolved" what it called "misunderstandings."
BishopAccountability.org, which monitors the Catholic abuse crisis, said in a statement that Benedict "should have praised Schoenborn for his honesty" rather than scold him.
It said the pope's move would "reinforce the Vatican's code of silence and culture of concealment ... stifle truth-tellers, (and) discourage whistle-blowers ...."
The sexual abuse crisis has hit the United States and several European countries, including the pope's native Germany.
Five bishops in Europe have already resigned. One has admitted sexual abuse, another is under investigation and three have stepped down over their handling of abuse cases.
In the past week, the focus has been on Belgium, where last week police raided church offices, the home of a cardinal and even opened up a tomb in their search for documents that could help their investigation.
On Sunday, the pope denounced the raids as "surprising and deplorable" in a letter to the head of the Belgian bishops conference. The day after the raids, the Vatican protested to the Belgian ambassador to the Holy See.
Earlier this month Benedict begged forgiveness from God and victims of child sexual abuse by priests and vowed that the Catholic Church would do everything in its power to ensure that it never happens again.
(Writing by Philip Pullella; Editing by Mark Heinrich)