schoenbornPope Benedict, still struggling to control the damage a sexual abuse scandal has done to the Catholic Church’s image, has bluntly told his top advisers that they should not trade accusations in public.

The Vatican issued an unusual statement on Monday in which it effectively said the pope had censured Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna, who last month publicly accused another cardinal of covering up sexual abuse. (Photo: Cardinal Schönborn, 23 June 2010/Leonhard Foeger)

“Regarding accusations against a cardinal, we remind everyone that, in the Church, only the pope has the authority to accuse a cardinal,” said the statement, a rare case of the Church making its internal bickering public.

The statement — issued after a meeting between the pope, Schönborn, Sodano and secretary of state Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone — said Church officials had to “show due respect” for each other.

Last month Schönborn criticized Italian Cardinal Angelo Sodano, who served from 1990 to 2006 as secretary of state, the Vatican’s second-most important position. In a conversation with Austrian newspaper editors, he accused Sodano of having blocked an investigation of into sexual abuse by former Austrian Cardinal Hans Hermann Groer, who stepped down as archbishop of Vienna in 1995 after allegations that he had sexually abused young seminarians.