Page last updated at 15:17 GMT, Wednesday, 31 March 2010 16:17 UK

Swiss Roman Catholic bishops apologise over abuse

President of the Swiss Bishops Conference, Bishop Norbert Brunner (31 March 2010)
Swiss bishops said information was now exchanged between parishes

Roman Catholic bishops in Switzerland have admitted that they underestimated the extent of sexual abuse committed by priests, and have offered an apology.

The Swiss Bishops' Conference said it was "ashamed" and suggested victims should consider pressing criminal charges against the perpetrators.

The bishops did not, however, support the publication of a list of priests who have been found guilty of abuse.

An estimated 60 cases of abuse are now under investigation by the authorities.

In recent weeks, senior leaders of the Catholic Church, including Pope Benedict XVI, have come under intense pressure after suggestions that they were involved in the cover-up of abuse scandals worldwide.

On Tuesday, Italian bishops defended the Pope, saying he had shown a determined and enlightened attitude, and had refused to downplay the scandals.

Information exchange

The BBC's Imogen Foulkes in Geneva says the abuse scandal rocking the Catholic Church has not left Switzerland untouched.

Those in charge of the diocese and religious orders made mistakes
Swiss Bishops' Conference

News that senior clergy knew about some cases of abuse and simply transferred the offending priests elsewhere has caused outrage, our correspondent says.

On Wednesday, the Swiss Bishops' Conference apologised for "errors" and admitted it had "underestimated the magnitude of the situation".

"Those in charge of the diocese and religious orders made mistakes," it said.

The bishops called on "all those who have suffered abuse" to approach special clerical offices that deal with such complaints, and "if the need arises, to press charges" through the police.

But the bishops did not give their backing to a call by Switzerland's president for a database of abusers within the priesthood.

"We have had a bad experience of this. Some politicians say 'you have to have a list', others say 'don't have a list'. The list serves no purpose," said the general secretary of the Bishop's Conference, Abbot Felix Gmuer.

"The issue is that you end up with information about probable or possible abusers."

The Swiss bishops say there is a good information exchange between different parishes, and that this could be the way to prevent future abuse cases.

But when asked how many cases had been reported so far, the bishops were not sure - a sign perhaps that the information flow is not working as well as they think it is, our correspondent says.

Opinion polls show more than 80% of people in Switzerland want a list of priests guilty of abuse, while more than 90% are against the Catholic Church's rule on celibacy.

For many, the bishops' apology may be too little, too late, our correspondent adds.

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