The Vatican claimed instances of sexual abuse of children were far more widespread in the secular world than in the Catholic church as it worked on Sunday to calm a growing row over allgations of priestly misconduct.

In a front page editorial, its official newspaper L'Osservatore Romano stressed: "For the love of truth, the number of incidents involving clergy is very small."

Comment: Really? And why should we believe them if even Pope's Brother admitted that he was aware of allegations of physical abuse but did nothing about it?

It blamed media coverage of the sex scandals rocking the Catholic Church in Ireland, Germany and Austria for implying that there was a higher instance of sexual abuse in the Church than in other parts of society.

"This has a negative effect on the Catholic Church...but it should be noted that abuse of children is more widespread in non-religious people and married couples than clergy," the paper said.

As pressure increased on the Vatican, Ireland's top Roman Catholic, Cardinal Sean Brady, rejected calls to quit on Sunday after it emerged he had attended meetings where two alleged victims of a notorious paedophile priest signed an oath of secrecy.

Campaigners for victims of clerical child abuse called for his resignation after a Catholic Church statement said Cardinal Brady was present at the 1975 meetings at the direction of the late Bishop of Kilmore Francis McKiernan.

The church was investigating sex abuse complaints against Father Brendan Smyth whose activities led to the fall of prime minister Albert Reynolds' coalition government in 1994.

Smyth, who is believed to have abused hundreds of children over a 40-year period, was finally jailed in the 1990s and died in prison.

The cardinal insisted that his presence at the meetings was not a "resigning matter" and said he failed to contact the state authorities at the time as he was not the "designated person" to do so.

Meanwhile, in Vatican City, the Church worked to distance the pontiff from an abuse case in Germany.

Last week it emerged that Pope Benedict, while Archbishop of Munich, had been involved in a decision in 1980 to move a priest who was suspected of child abuse.

At the time Pope Benedict, then Archbishop Josef Ratzinger, jointly agreed to the priest undergoing therapy at a rectory in the diocese of Munich and Freising, where he was archbishop from 1977 to 1981.

However, rather than sending the priest for therapy as had been agreed, the diocese's then vicar general, Gerhard Gruber, assigned him to a Munich parish without restrictions.

Church officials in Germany have stressed that Pope Benedict was unaware of what had happened and it has emerged that the priest, known only as H, was convicted of child sex crimes.

The Italian newspaper La Repubblica on Sunday suggested that the Vatican feared cases within Italy itself and an avalanche of claims for compensation.

Church officials in the northern Italian diocese of mainly German-speaking Bolzano have set up an email hot line for victims of abuse by priests.

A local newspaper has already carried an interview with a man who claimed he was abused by priests at a local school. Luis Benedikter, spoke of a "climate of fear" at the unidentified school during the 1950s, which he attended for three years until he was 15.

Mr Benedikter said:"The director of the choir would beat us with a whip, hitting us in the face and on the hands. There was an atmosphere of crude violence and intimidation. It was physical and psychological abuse."