French Catholic bishops expressed "shame" Friday over child sex abuse by priests but complained that pedophilia accusations were being used in a slanderous campaign to attack the pope.
"Those who commit these acts disfigure our church, hurt Christian communities and spread suspicion over all members of the clergy," they wrote in a letter of support to Pope Benedict XVI.
The letter came as the Vatican hit back at new pedophilia revelations, defending the pope against an allegation that he failed to act over a U.S. priest accused of molesting up to 200 deaf children.
"We all feel shame and regret about the abominable acts perpetrated by certain priests and religious figures," the French bishops wrote at the close of their general assembly in the southwestern pilgrimage town of Lourdes.
"We also note that these unacceptable facts are being used in a campaign to attack your person and your mission.
"We wish to tell you that we carry with you the pain being caused by this calumny that targets you and we renew the expression of our communion and our support," they wrote.
There have been fewer reported cases of child abuse by priests in France than in other countries with strong Catholic populations.
But on Friday, officials in the north of the country said a priest there had been banned from approaching minors after police began investigating him on suspicion of sexual aggression and possession of child pornography.
The leader of Catholics in England and Wales on Friday also denied there had been a church cover-up of child abuse scandals, and insisted the pope is taking strong action to tackle it.