The Vatican's second-highest authority says the sex scandals haunting the Roman Catholic Church are linked to homosexuality and not celibacy among priests.
Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican's secretary of state, made the comments during a news conference Monday in Chile, where one of the church's highest-profile pedophile cases involves a priest having sex with young girls.
"Many psychologists and psychiatrists have demonstrated that there is no relation between celibacy and pedophilia. But many others have demonstrated, I have been told recently, that there is a relation between homosexuality and pedophilia. That is true," said Bertone. "That is the problem."
His comments drew angry reactions from Chile's gay rights advocates.
"Neither Bertone nor the Vatican has the moral authority to give lessons on sexuality," said Rolando Jimenez, president of the Movement for Homosexual Integration and Liberation in Chile.
Jimenez also said no reputable study exists to support the cardinal's claims.
"This is a perverse strategy by the Vatican to shirk its own ethical and legal responsibility by making a spurious and disgusting connection," he said.
That sentiment was echoed by international rights groups in the United States, reports CBS News correspondent Elaine Quijano.
"As reputable studies have proven and common sense bears out, there is no connection between gay people and pedophilia," Michael Cole of the Human Rights Campaign told CBS News in a written statement. "When the church makes gay people a scapegoat for pedophiles, it ignores one problem and creates another."
Meanwhile, a lone priest in Massachusetts has spoken out in harsh criticism of the Church leadership, including the Vatican, reports Quijano.
"They have not admitted to the cover-up. They are in constant denial," Father James Scahill, a longtime critic of the Church's response to the crisis told CBS News. "If by the slimmest of chances the Pope and his bishops didn't know, then they should resign because of total, complete ignorance, incompetence and irresponsibility."
At least one of the highest-profile pedophiles in the Chilean church victimized young girls, including a teenager who became pregnant.
At the time, the archbishop of the capital, Santiago, received multiple complaints about Father Jose Andres Aguirre from families concerned for their daughters. But the priest - known to his parishioners as Father Tato - continued serving at a number of Catholic girls schools in the city.
Later the church sent Aguirre out of Chile twice amid abuse allegations. He was eventually sentenced to 12 years in prison for abusing 10 teenage girls.
One of the girls, identified as Paula, said that she and the priest started to have sex when she was 16 and that it lasted until she was 20.
She told the Chilean newspaper La Nacion: "I thought it wasn't that bad to have sex with him because when I told priests about it at confession they just told me to pray and that was it. They knew, and some of them guessed that it was Father Tato. But everyone looked the other way. No one corrected or helped me."
She said one of the priests she confessed to about her sex with Aguirre was Bishop Francisco Jose Cox, who himself was facing allegations of pedophilia.
Cox had been bishop in La Serena, in northern Chile, for seven years when he was removed in 1997 amid rumors that he was a pedophile. He was first transferred to Santiago, then Rome, then Colombia, and finally Germany. The Schoenstatt movement, a worldwide lay community within the Catholic Church, paid for the moves and his treatment.
In 2002, Santiago Archbishop Francisco Javier Erraruriz said Cox had agreed to be removed for "inappropriate conduct."
The archbishop acknowledged Cox had shown "affection that was a bit exuberant," especially toward children, but said, "I'm not aware of any formal allegation backed by evidence."
Erraruriz said Cox volunteered to be confined to a Schoenstatt convent in Colombia to continue "praying to God for his pardon for the errors he has made."
Last week, the archbishop admitted the Chilean church was investigating cases of priest pedophilia after playing the issue down for years.
"There is something to these pedophilia abuses - just a few, thank God," Errazuriz said in an interview on state television.