A Vatican newspaper claims the hailstorm of allegations of priestly sexual abuse is a conspiracy aimed at the present Pope and the Catholic Church.

Ironically, it targets the "media" as leading or cheerleading this conspiracy, the New York Times being the latest to publish a historical claim, from up to 70 young, deaf boys who allege abuse by an American priest now dead.

It is unfortunate the messenger is being criticised rather than the message heeded. There is much still to be done for the church to put this sin behind it.

In the United States case and historical allegations from Germany, the Vatican itself, rather than dioceses in those countries, is implicated because of decisions taken by its Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Its leader through some of the allegations was Pope Benedict XVI, as Cardinal Josef Ratzinger.

In the latest case the accused priest wrote directly to him pleading for mercy. The Vatican then stopped attempts by US bishops to hold a "canonical" or church trial and urged secrecy to avoid public shame.

That failure of accountability continues to weigh heavily.

In New Zealand, after allegations of sex abuse emerged in the 1990s, the church adopted a protocol which it says protects victims' rights.

First, they are encouraged to go to the police. An office headed by a non-Catholic former police commissioner was established to investigate failures by the church.

Crimes did occur here and a past default towards secrecy or internal discipline has been discarded without apparent censure from Rome.

After a new round of controversy in Ireland, the Pope wrote an unprecedented letter to churchgoers condemning abuse of children and failure by bishops to stop and punish abusive priests.

He declared the acts criminal, not just sinful, and urged reporting to civil authorities.

Those words and his prayer for the well-being of victims were welcomed by many Catholics traumatised at the betrayal of their young by a small number of criminal predators.

The Pope's declaration did not satisfy campaigners for victims. They seek a papal order that all claims of abuse by priests must be reported immediately to criminal authorities - far stronger than his ambiguous 2001 directive that bishops could work with civil authorities but should keep allegations secret.

They want an assurance that internal cover-ups can never happen again.

It seems from the interventions by the department he controlled that Pope Benedict's past instinct has been for the church to handle its dirtiest washing internally.

Some clerics hold that the "secular" world cannot presume to claim authority over church matters. On things criminal, however, it is a view that the Pope now seemingly recognises cannot stand.

Among Catholic laypeople there is suspicion that old crimes are being used to discredit today's church.

Some calculate the total number of priests and the relatively small number of offenders over many years and then compare that to percentages for the secular world.

Their argument is that church-linked offending is no greater than the sad reality of society's norm. But it is a forlorn and defensive mindset.

As the Economist magazine has argued, if you preach absolute moral values you will be judged against absolute moral standards.

The church cannot accept relative failure or relative consequences, particularly under this Pope who argues forcefully for an end to relativism.

If it is true to itself, the Catholic Church cannot be satisfied with being as good as, or not as bad as, other parts of society.

If any conspiracy exists, it is the one in which sexual offenders were protected and victims abandoned by those in authority.

A new conspiracy is needed, one which confirms in deeds the Pope's words to the Irish. Responsibility must be taken by those who hid wrong.