Vatican accuses campaigners of 'negative prejudices'

The Vatican on Wednesday defended the cardinals meeting in conclave to elect the next pope and accused a campaign group for victims of paedophile priests of showing "negative prejudices".

"None of us are surprised that they have tried to take advantage of these days to repeat their accusations and give them greater resonance," Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi told reporters.

"We are convinced there are excellent reasons for why these cardinals should be respected and have every right to be in the conclave," he said.

"I think their (the campaigners') views are strongly influenced by negative prejudices," he said.

"Cardinal Mahony and the other cardinals accused by SNAP have given their answers, their explanations," he said.

The US group SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests) had called for over a dozen cardinals to be excluded for covering up abuse and making tactless remarks about the scandals.

The main target of the criticism has been US cardinal Roger Mahony, the disgraced former archbishop of Los Angeles, who is accused of protecting predator priests for decades but is among the "Princes of the Church" electing the new pope.

British cardinal Keith O'Brien was left out of the conclave after the Vatican was informed of claims of sexual misconduct against him by priests and trainee priests in the 1980s.

O'Brien apologised and admitted to the misconduct.