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Tuesday, 8 January, 2002, 23:20 GMT
Vatican acts on paedophile priests
The church has been rocked by a series of child sex abuse scandals
The Roman Catholic Church has published guidelines for its senior clergy on how to handle cases of child abuse by priests.

The guidelines, written in Latin, were issued last year, but only published on Tuesday as part of the Acts of the Apostolic See, the Vatican's official legislation record.

We hope that not only will these serious crimes be avoided, but, above all, that the holiness of the clergy and the faithful be protected

Letter from Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger
They state that suspected cases should immediately be reported to Rome, so the Vatican can determine the course of action - although they do not outline what could happen to those found guilty or whether civil authorities should be told.

In recent high-profile scandals, courts in France and the US found senior Roman Catholic clergy guilty of covering up child abuse by priests.


Accompanying the guidelines was a letter from Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, leader of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith - which deals with matters of faith and morals

"With this letter, we hope that not only will these serious crimes be avoided, but, above all, that the holiness of the clergy and the faithful be protected," it said.

The document said bishops and heads of religious orders must inform Rome if they discover "even a hint" of paedophilia by a priest and launch an investigation.

The Vatican
The Vatican will now deal with the problem directly

Clergymen involved in sexual abuse cases will then go before either a local ecclesiastical court or the Vatican Congregation itself which will be the appeal court in either case.

The hearing will all be held in secret.

As a result, the Vatican will control the problem directly, instead of it being left in the domain of national churches.

Hidden truth

In recent years, the Roman Catholic Church has been hit by a number of scandals involving paedophile priests.

Last September, a French court handed down a three-month suspended jail term to the Bishop of Bayeaux for failing to inform police that a priest in his diocese had admitted sexual abuse.

And two years ago the Catholic diocese of Dallas in Texas was found to have concealed a priest's sexual abuse of boys.

The victims were awarded $119.6m in damages - then the largest award given in a sexual abuse case.

In November 2001, the first ever e-mail sent by the Pope over the Internet was a 120-page document which contained apologies to victims of sexual abuse by clergy members.

The BBC's David Willey
"The guidelines have never been previously published in Rome"
RC Archbishop of Cardiff Peter Smith
"It is quite a technical document"
Margaret Kennedy represents an abuse survivors group
"The Vatican is not skilled to investigate"
See also:

15 Jun 01 | Europe
Crisis in the confessional
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