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Thursday, 2 May, 2002, 15:23 GMT 16:23 UK
Catholic child abuse fears widen
Pope John Paul II at Easter vigil
The Pope: "No place in the Church for child abusers"
The Roman Catholic Church in Hong Kong has confirmed that three of its priests have been accused of sexually abusing children.

The allegations - which cover the last three decades - are now being investigated by police.


It is beyond question that the sexual abuse of minors is not only an appalling sin but also a serious crime

Hong Kong Catholic diocese
The public acknowledgement follows claims in a local newspaper that the Church failed to pass on the information to the police and dealt with the matter internally.

The revelations come as the Catholic Church worldwide grapples with accusations that it covered up abuse by priests.

Last week, the Vatican held an emergency meeting with American cardinals over the child abuse scandal engulfing the Church in the US.

Pope John Paul II has said there is no place in the priesthood and religious life for those who would harm the young.

Anger

Hong Kong police are to decide after their investigation whether there is enough evidence to press charges.

The BBC's Damian Grammaticas in Hong Kong says there is anger that the Church's admission came only after allegations appeared in the South China Morning Post - the territory's English-language daily.
View of Hong Kong
The former British colony has about a quarter of a million Catholics

He says the local Catholic authorities have been condemned - like their counterparts in the US - for not publicly acknowledging cases of paedophilia and for trying to deal with them behind closed doors.

The Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong confirmed in a written statement that three priests who worked in the territory had been accused of molestation.

Zero tolerance

Two were suspended from public ministry; one later left the priesthood.

The third priest was accused of sexual abuse in another country before he went to Hong Kong.

There was no suggestion of any wrongdoing while he was in the territory, but he had been recalled and barred from posts involving contact with minors, the Church said.

The statement also announced that the Church in Hong Kong - which has an estimated 250,000 Catholics - would now adopt a "No tolerance Policy".

Any priest who is proved to have committed even one act of sexual abuse of a minor will be removed from public ministry.

"It is beyond doubt that the sexual abuse of minors is not only an appalling sin but also a serious crime", it said.

The Church has 300 priests and runs a similar number of schools and kindergartens in the former British colony.

Global issue

The issue of child abuse in the Catholic Church has figured in several countries apart from the US.

Bishops in Ireland have backed a wide-ranging investigation into abuse over the past 60 years after more than 20 priests, brothers and nuns were convicted of molesting children.

The head of Ireland's Roman Catholic Church last month expressed "deep regret" for "inadequacies" in church responses to allegations of abuse.

In Austria, the Church has admitted that accusations of paedophilia levelled against its former head, Archbishop of Vienna Hans Hermann Groer, are substantially true.

And last year, a court in France gave a three-month suspended sentence to Bishop Pierre Pican, who was accused of covering up for a paedophile priest.

See also:

23 Apr 02 | Europe
Pope condemns US church sex abuse
23 Apr 02 | World
A global scandal
25 Apr 02 | Americas
Analysis: US cardinals get message
14 Apr 02 | Europe
Irish cardinal 'regrets' abuse
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