Pope Benedict XVI has criticised the "deplorable methods" of Belgian police who raided a meeting of bishops as part of a paedophilia probe.
In a letter of support to Andre-Joseph Leonbard, the archbishop of Brussels-Malines, Benedict on Sunday expressed anger at the confiscation of phones, computers and other items.
"I want to express ... my closeness and solidarity in this moment of sadness, in which, with certain surprising and deplorable methods, searches were carried out," Benedict wrote.
Belgian officials say the raid on Thursday followed a string of sexual abuse accusations directed at high-level members of the church.
Stefaan De Clerck, the Belgian justice minister, defended the police and accused the Vatican of overreacting.
"The bishops were treated completely normally during the raid on the archdiocese and it is false to say that they received no food or drink," he said, referring to media reports about their treatment.
Possible legal action
Benedict's criticism follows condemnation from other church officials. Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican's secretary of state, said the detention of several bishops during the raid was "serious and unbelievable".
In a statement, the Vatican said it would consider legal action if the raid turned out to be what it called a "fishing expedition".
The Belgian church was rocked in April when its longest-serving bishop, 73-year-old Roger Vangheluwe, resigned from his post after admitting sexually abusing a boy for years.
Retired priests have also accused church officials of covering up hundreds of cases of sexual abuse going back more than 15 years.