In a move which a leading lawyer this morning called "deeply inadvisable", the Vatican has launched an extraordinary attack on the world's media, blaming reporters for the scandal over the Catholic Church's deepening and severe child abuse crisis.
There is particular ire at charges that Pope Benedict XVI, in a previous role, failed to act against a US priest accused of abusing up to 200 deaf boys two decades ago.
A Vatican newspaper editorial said the claims were "ignoble", an "attack" on the pontiff, and claimed there was no "cover-up" - a point many researchers, lawyers and advocates for the abused dispute factually.
Archbishops had complained about Fr Lawrence Murphy in 1996 to a Vatican office led by the future pope, but apparently received no response. One victim told the BBC yesterday that the Pope had known of a cover-up "for many years".
Arthur Budzinski, now aged 61, said that Pope Benedict XVI should now admit this openly. Speaking through an interpreter, he declared: "It goes all the way up to [Benedict] - he was in charge of these types of cases."
Allegations of the abuse of deaf children have also resurfaced in Italy, where interviews with several victims were due to be broadcast on national television on Friday.
Fr Murphy is suspected of abusing some 200 boys at St John's School for the Deaf in St Francis, Wisconsin, between 1950 and 1974.
According to Church documents, an archbishop wrote in 1996 to a Vatican body headed up by the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger of Berlin, the future Pope, to complain about Fr Murphy.
Fresh allegations are now surfacing every few days across the world and the crisis for the Catholic Church is now "massive and life-threatening," a Catholic commentator told Ekklesia.
The Pope's spokesperson defended the pontiff, saying the Vatican department which he was once in charge of had not been informed of these latest allegations until 1996 - 20 years after the priest's victims first informed the police.
Those connected to the case say they find this "highly implausible" and believe they will be able to prove it to be untrue.
But the Vatican's excuse for lack of any action - that Church law "does not envision automatic penalties" - has been described as "lamentable" by victims' groups.
While the Pope is now promoting a policy of zero tolerance to clerical abuse, the suspicion remains that for many years he failed to react to the damning evidence which arrived on his desk, reports the BBC.
A canonical trial in the disputed case was authorised by the future Pope's deputy, but was later halted, despite objections from a second archbishop.
A strongly worded Vatican newspaper editorial said there was "no cover-up" over the case, which was reported in Thursday's edition of the New York Times.
L'Osservatore Romano labelled the allegations "clearly an ignoble attempt to strike at Pope Benedict and his closest aides at any cost".
Meanwhile, one of the Pope's top aides, Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins, told reporters there was "a conspiracy" against the Church, without specifying who was responsible.
But aleading QC and former British Director of Public Prosecution, Sir Ken Macdonald, told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme this morning that the Vatican's attempt to deflect blame by "shooting the messenger" was deeply inadvisable and would backfire.