The Catholic Church last night hit back over claims that Pope Benedict XVI played a leading role in a systematic cover-up of child sex abuse by its priests.
One Archbishop labelled a BBC documentary broadcast as unwarranted, misleading and a "deeply prejudiced attack" against the Pope.
The Most Rev Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Birmingham, said the Panorama programme misrepresented confidential Vatican papers to back up its claims.
Speaking on behalf of the Bishops of England and Wales, he said: "It is false because it misrepresents two Vatican documents and uses them quite misleadingly in order to connect the horrors of child abuse to the person of the Pope."
The documentary examined a secret document that apparently sets out a procedure for dealing with child sex abuse scandals within the Catholic Church.
It claimed the document - Crimen Sollicitationis - was enforced for 20 years by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger before he became the Pope.
The 39-page document, written in 1962, includes an oath of secrecy, enforceable by excommunication.
Expert Father Tom Doyle, a canon solicitor sacked from the Vatican after he criticised its handling of child abuse, interpreted the document for the BBC. But the Catholic Church said the document was not directly concerned with child abuse at all, but with the misuse of the confessional.
It added that the second document, issued in 2001, clarified the law of the Church and does not hinder the investigation of allegations of child abuse.
The programme also claimed to find seven priests facing child abuse allegations living in and around the Vatican City.
Archbishop Nichols, chairman of the Catholic Office for the Protection of Children and Vulnerable Adults (COPCA), said the broadcaster should be ashamed by the standard of its journalism.