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Italian police anticipate Vatican unrest

Authorities detain four Americans protesting the "cover-up" of sexual abuse by priests.

After a deranged woman attacked the pope on Christmas night, security has tightened around the Vatican. Just last week, a man was briefly held and questioned after shouting during the pope's general audience in St. Peter's Square, calling for pro-choice politicians to be denied communion. Policemen say that they will keep their eyes open for more such events as the Vatican remains at the center of the news.

Though the Vatican has its own police force in addition to the famous Swiss Guards who protect the pope, the border between Italy and Vatican City, which runs along the edge of St. Peter's Square, is guarded by Italian policemen. The SNAP group was acting in Italian territory.

As the four were protesting, a few meters away, in the Vatican press office, cardinals and bishops were presenting to journalists the latest display of Turin's Holy Shroud. But the room was abuzz with talk of the latest allegations against the pope and his closest collaborator, Vatican Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone.

A New York Times story accuses them of having dithered over the punishment of a pedophile priest who had abused about 200 deaf boys. While local bishops wanted the priest defrocked, Ratzinger and Bertone — then heading the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith — advised milder “pastoral measures” out of respect for the priest's old age.

“The goal of Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict, was to keep this secret,” Isely told journalists at the protesters' press conference.

As scandal focuses more directly on the pope himself, the church has shifted from early calls for “zero tolerance” toward predator priests and cover-ups to an aggressively defensive stance.

The Vatican paper, L'Osservatore Romano, on Thursday rebuked recent media coverage of the scandal as an “ignoble attempt” to smear Pope Benedict “at any cost.”

“The prevalent tendency in the media is to ignore the facts and stretch interpretations with the aim of spreading the picture of the Catholic Church as the only one responsible for sexual abuse, something which does not correspond to reality,” the Vatican newspaper said.