VATICAN CITY – The Vatican heatedly defended Pope Benedict XVI on Tuesday, claiming accusations that he helped cover up the actions of pedophile priests are part of an anti-Catholic “hate” campaign targeting the pope for his opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage.

Vatican Radio broadcast comments by two senior cardinals explaining “the motive for these attacks,” and the Vatican newspaper chipped in with spirited comments from another top cardinal.

“The pope defends life and the family, based on marriage between a man and a woman, in a world in which powerful lobbies would like to impose a completely different” agenda, Spanish Cardinal Julian Herranz, head of the disciplinary commission for Holy See officials, said on the radio.

Herranz didn’t identify the lobbies but “defense of life” is Vatican shorthand for anti-abortion efforts.

Also arguing that Benedict’s promotion of conservative family models had provoked the so-called attacks was the Vatican’s dean of the College of Cardinals, Angelo Sodano.

“now, it’s a cultural contrast,” Sodano told the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano. “The pope embodies moral truths that aren’t accepted, and so, the shortcomings and errors of priests are used as weapons against the church.”

Also rallying to Benedict’s side was Italian Cardinal Giovanni Lajolo, who heads the Vatican City State’s governing apparatus.

The pope “has done all that he could have” against sex abuse of minors by clergy, Lajolo said on Vatican radio, decrying what he described as a campaign of “hatred against the Catholic Church.”

The Rev. Rebecca Voelkel, a Minneapolis, Minn.-based minister in the United Church of Christ who is faith work director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, described the cardinals’ comments as “diversionary counterattacks” that are an affront both to the victims of clergy abuse and to gays and lesbians.

“It makes me heartsick,” she said.

Sex abuse allegations, as well as accusations of cover-ups by diocesan bishops and Vatican officials, have swept across Europe in recent weeks. Benedict has been criticized for not halting the actions of abusive priests when he was a Vatican cardinal and earlier while he was the archbishop of Munich in his native Germany.

The mainland European scandals — in Germany, Italy, Austria, Denmark and Switzerland — are erupting after decades of abuse cases in the United States, Canada, Australia, Ireland and other countries.

In Germany, nearly 2,700 people called the church’s sexual abuse hot line in the first three days it was operating.

Benedict has ignored victims’ demands that he accept responsibility for what they say is his own personal and institutional responsibility for failing to swiftly kick abusive priests out of the priesthood, or at least keep them away from children.