comments_image Comments

Vatican readies guidelines against sex abuse

The Vatican said Friday it was preparing guidelines for the Church on combating abuse as the world's cardinals held unprecedented talks about paedophile priests under pressure from victims.

Pope Benedict XVI (C) and Vatican's secretary of state cardinal Tarcisio Bertone (L) pray as they open a closed-door meeting of more than 100 of the Roman Catholic Church's cardinals at The Vatican. The Vatican said Friday it was preparing guidelines for the Church on combating abuse as the world's cardinals held unprecedented talks about paedophile priests under pressure from victims.

The Vatican said the meeting of around 150 of the Roman Catholic Church's 203 cardinals was told about "preparation work for a circular letter... on the guidelines to offer for a coordinated and efficient programme" against abuse.

Cardinal William Levada, the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the body in charge of Church dogma, led the discussions.

Levada also spoke about the need to listen to victims, to work together with law enforcement and to make a careful selection of future priests.

Cardinals called for "the development of efficient, fast, articulated, complete and decisive plans to defend minors," the Vatican said in a statement.

But the US-based abuse victims group, Survivors' Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), said in a statement it was "disappointed" with the meeting.

It added: "We didn't have high hopes for this meeting because these church officials are the same men who ignored and concealed."

England leader of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), Lucy Duckworth, listens during a press conference ahead of a protest in Rome. They are protesting as cardinals from around the world meet for unprecedented talks on paedophile clergy.

The group also called on the Church to stop making "symbolic gestures" and to release files on the abuses and those who covered up for the crimes.

The day-long, closed-door meeting was referred to by the Vatican as "a day of prayer and reflection" on a variety of challenges facing the Church.

It also discussed religious freedom and Anglican conversions to Catholicism.

The issue of abuse by priests and cover-ups by bishops has exposed a raw nerve among many ordinary Catholics who are dissatisfied with the Vatican's handling of the issue and has put Church authorities on the defensive.

"I'm tired of talking about this topic. I've had it up to here," Mexican cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan told reporters on the sidelines of the talks.

French cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois said after the meeting that some clergymen had called for investigation of abuse in "other parts of the world" and not just in Europe and the United States, where many of the scandals have occurred.

A cardinal (L) and bishops attend a closed-door meeting at The Vatican. The Vatican said Friday it was preparing guidelines for the Church on combating abuse as the world's cardinals held unprecedented talks about paedophile priests under pressure from victims.

German cardinal Walter Kasper said the meeting had also encouraged Catholic bishops around the world "to continue to fight this evil."

The publication in Ireland last year of a shocking report that documented hundreds of cases of child abuse by priests and systematic cover-up efforts by senior clergy has plunged the Church into its worst crisis in many years.

There have since been hundreds more revelations across the US and Europe.

"If the pope and cardinals want to make a difference, they should be meeting with law enforcement professionals, not with one another," said Joelle Casteix, 40, an abuse victim who travelled to Rome from the United States to protest.

Cardinals have a key role in the Roman Catholic Church because they elect new popes. The college of cardinals acts as a consultative body that has been likened to the supervisory board of a major multinational corporation.

Lucy Duckworth, 28, who said she was abused by two priests when she was a child, added: "The church says they offer support to victims. I've had no such support. No phone calls from the Church. I pay for my own therapy."

VIDEO: After outcry over abuse committed by Catholic priests in several countries, the wave of damaging revelations has now reached Pope Benedict's native Germany. Duration: 01:33

Benedict has condemned sex abuse crimes with growing intensity, has met with victims and has tightened Church rules for dealing with abusers.

Special envoys from the Vatican have also been dispatched to Ireland this month to meet with victims and examine procedures for preventing abuse, with the Vatican saying the mission would help the Church "purify itself".

But campaigners say the Church has not done nearly enough.

SNAP campaigners said senior clergy should reach out to victims who have not yet spoken out and "turn over to police and prosecutors the personnel files of proven, admitted and credibly accused child molesting clerics."

They called on cardinals to "stop making symbolic gestures about the abuse."

Only last month, dozens of abuse victims from another US group held a protest in front of the Vatican, calling for the pope to be put on trial.