The Vatican responded today to Vienna’s archbishop, Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn’s accusations that Cardinal Angelo Sodano blocked an investigation into the former Archbishop of Vienna’s link to the sex abuse scandal in that country.

AP and the New York Times with snips from the story:

In a statement, the Vatican said only the pope can make such accusations against a cardinal, not another so-called prince of the church.

In April, Vienna’s archbishop, Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, accused the former Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, of blocking a probe into a sex abuse scandal that rocked Austria’s church 15 years ago.

Schoenborn also accused Sodano of causing ”massive harm” to victims when he dismissed claims of clerical abuse as ”petty gossip” on Easter Sunday.

Schoenborn’s comments about Sodano were remarkable in that they were directed at Pope John Paul II’s No. 2, who has already come under fire for his alleged stonewalling of a Vatican investigation into the founder of the Legionaries of Christ, who was found to have abused seminarians and fathered at least three children.

Such a public and formal reprimand of a cardinal is extremely rare — particularly for one like Schoenborn, who has long been close to Benedict, his onetime professor, and is seen as a possible papal contender himself.

The Vatican on Monday sought to clarify Sodano’s ”petty gossip” comment, noting that the pope himself had used the same phrase a week earlier, referring to the need to have ”courage to not be intimidated by the petty gossip of dominant opinions.”

The phrase, and Sodano’s repetition of it, had sparked widespread criticism that the Vatican simply didn’t appreciate the significance of the clerical abuse scandal. It suggested that the pope himself and his collaborators believed that the hundreds of reports that were flooding in of children being raped and sodomized by priests, and the questions that were being asked about the Vatican’s handling of such cases, were mere gossip, not serious crimes.

The Holy See issued the statement after Schöenborn met with the pontiff in a private audience Monday. The audience was then broadened to include Sodano and the current Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone.

The Vatican communique said Schoenborn had wanted to ”clarify the exact sense of his recent comments” concerning celibacy and Sodano. It said Schöenborn ”expressed his displeasure for the interpretations.”

Interesting that the story basically says: “Let the Pope handle this. You don’t have to have his back.”