Voices in the secular media — most recently and implausibly John Paul II’s would-be assassin Ali Agca — called for Pope Benedict’s resignation this weekend in light of The New York Times’ reports of his handling of the Father Lawrence Murphy case in Wisconsin.

Then-cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was informed of the case of Father Murphy in 1996, more than 20 years after the first abuse allegations were made against him, and is now criticized for deciding in 1997 to leave the case in the hands of Milwaukee Archbishop Rembert Weakland — as was then standard practice — and for accepting Father Murphy’s plea that, given his failing health, he be allowed in 1998 to live out his days in peace without being stripped of his priesthood. Father Murphy died in August 1998 after living 24 years in seclusion.

Bishops worldwide rallied to the Holy Father’s defense this weekend, charging that the Times missed the real story. Here is a sampling of what they said.

Cardinal Walter Kasper
Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity
Saturday, March 27

“He was the first one who, already as cardinal, felt the need for new and stricter rules, which there hadn’t been. That some newspapers are now exploiting horrific cases in order to attack him is something that breaks all bounds of justice and loyalty. … The Pope never prohibited anyone from denouncing abusive priests and never gave orders to hide anything.”

Archbishop Vincent Nichols
Archdiocese of Westminster, England
Sunday, March 28 on BBC

“He is the one above all else in Rome that has tackled this thing head on.”

Cardinal Marc Ouellet
Archdiocese of Quebec
Friday, March 26

“The Holy Father has always testified to the same spirit of zero tolerance on the subject ... during each one of his responsibilities up to the papacy. To claim the opposite is to be deeply mistaken about this just and compassionate man.”

Archbishop Timothy Dolan
Archdiocese of New York
Sunday, March 28

“What deepens the sadness now is the unrelenting insinuations against the Holy Father himself, as certain sources seem frenzied to implicate the man who, perhaps more than anyone else has been the leader in purification, reform and renewal that the Church so needs. … No one has been more vigorous in cleansing the Church of the effects of this sickening sin than the man we now call Pope Benedict XVI.  The dramatic progress that the Catholic Church in the United States has made — documented again just last week by the report made by independent forensic auditors — could never have happened without the insistence and support of the very man now being daily crowned with thorns by groundless innuendo.

“Does the Church and her pastor, Pope Benedict XVI, need intense scrutiny and just criticism for tragic horrors long past?

“Yes! He himself has asked for it, encouraging complete honesty, at the same time expressing contrition, and urging a thorough cleansing.

“All we ask is that it be fair, and that the Catholic Church not be singled out for a horror that has cursed every culture, religion, organization, institution, school, agency and family in the world.

“Sorry to bring this up … but, then again, the Eucharist is the Sunday meal of the spiritual family we call the Church.  At Sunday dinner we share both joys and sorrows. The father of our family, il papa, needs our love, support and prayers.”

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin
Archdiocese of Dublin, Ireland
Sunday, March 28

“The Church will not be reformed as the Church of Christ by cries from outside, of those who do not believe.  Renewal is a matter of faith and of understanding what it means that Jesus’ Kingdom is not of this world.”

Bishop Edward Kmiec
Diocese of Buffalo, N.Y.
Sunday, March 28

“I think the Pope has answered his critics. He gives an answer. And I think he’s a man of honor, of integrity, of honesty. I think if he felt he had done something wrong, I think he’d admit to it.”

Bishop Patrick Dunn
Diocese of Auckland, New Zealand
Monday, March 29

“Pope Benedict’s letter to the Irish Church and its bishops is unprecedented. He is telling Church authorities in uncompromising language that any further mishandling of complaints will not be tolerated.

“The Pope has met victims of abuse and expresses in this letter his deep sadness for what they have endured, his praise for their courage in coming forward, and his personal resolve to bring them justice and healing so far as is humanly possible. He tells the bishops and leaders of religious orders in Ireland that they must cooperate with the civil authorities in reporting abuse, and he proposes to send officials with the appropriate authority to the worst-affected areas to assist with the work of healing and renewal.

“The most recent suggestion that the Pope, as Cardinal Ratzinger, wanted such complaints addressed in absolute secrecy is astonishing.”

The Bishops’ Conference of France
Writing to the Holy Father during their Plenary Meeting at Lourdes
Friday, March 26

“We consider it unacceptable that these facts are used in a campaign to attack you and your mission to serve the Church. We suffer all these indignities, and we want to tell you that we bear with you the pain of the slanders you suffer, and we renew our expression of communion and support.”

Archbishop Henryk Muszynski
Archdiocese of Gniezno (Primate of Poland)
Sunday, March 28

“Any insinuations that the Pope Benedict XVI has sought to conceal or gloss over painful cases of this kind of fraud are completely unfounded and are difficult to understand otherwise than as a form of direct attack on the person and dignity of the Pope as well as an attempt to discredit the Catholic Church.”