Secretive Vatican to open up on sex abuse cases

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Rome, Apr.11 (ANI): The Vatican has announced that Pope Benedict XVI will meet with more sex abuse victims as part of an attempt to increase the transparency of the church's internal justice system.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the office once known as the Inquisition, has long epitomised the secrecy of the Vatican, with responsibility for banning books and meting out punishments as severe as excommunication and burning at the stake.

Now, according to The Independent, as the office's handling of child-molesting priests comes increasingly under fire, the Vatican is starting to open up.

Tomorrow, it will release online a concise guide for the layman on how the congregation handles sex abuse allegations.

This follows the Vatican's announcement that Pope Benedict XVI would meet with more abuse victims, and that transparency in dealing with abuse allegations is an "urgent requirement" for the church - a sharp turnabout in Rome's previously defensive response to the scandal.

The softening of the previously haughty line comes as two new cases emerged.

A letter written by a now-dead Canadian bishop shows church officials knew of sexual abuse allegations involving a priest before his promotion to a top Vatican post and then discussed with Vatican officials how to keep the scandal from becoming public.

The second case involves a Catholic priest who was defrocked after a nun accused him of raping three children in Bolivia has been living with his family in Uruguay for more than a year - with the full knowledge of Uruguayan church officials - despite an Interpol warrant for his arrest.

The new layman's guide doesn't contain any information that isn't available to the public through a trip to a specialised religious library or a Vatican bookshop. But it puts various sources of complicated canonical procedures together in a concise, easy-to-read, one-page guide, without cumbersome canon law citations and Latin phrases.

The church's internal justice system for dealing with abuse allegations has come under attack because of claims by victims that their accusations were long ignored by bishops, more concerned about protecting the church, and by the congregation, which was headed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger from 1981 until he was elected Pope in 2005.

According to Vatican norms, issued in 2001 and summarised in the new guide, a bishop must investigate every allegation of sexual abuse of a minor by a cleric.

If the accusation has a semblance of truth, the case is referred to the congregation, which decides how to proceed. The congregation's disciplinary department, which weighs each case, is composed of 10 people: Monsignor Charles Scicluna, who is the promoter of justice or chief prosecutor; the bureau chief; seven priests; and a lay lawyer, though other officials from other Vatican offices are brought in for specific cases.

They can decide to authorise the diocese to pursue either a judicial or an administrative trial, both of which can condemn a priest to a number of penalties, including defrocking, or what the church calls being reduced to the lay state.

Victims can also seek damages. Or the congregation can conduct a trial on its own, although that is rare.

If the evidence is overwhelming, the congregation can refer the case directly to the Pope, who can issue a decree dismissing the priest from the priesthood altogether. (ANI)

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