- VATICAN CITY (Reuters)
- The Vatican has quietly issued new rules for Roman Catholic churches
around the world to deal with pedophile priests, saying they should stand
trial in secret ecclesiastical courts.
- Pope John Paul and the Vatican issued two documents on
the problem in 2001, but they were not presented at press conferences or
made public as is usually the case for such documents.
- Instead, they were published in Latin without any fanfare
in the latest yearly volume of ``Acta Apostolicae Sedis,'' (Acts of the
Apostolic See), the journal of record of the Holy See.
- In recent years, the Roman Catholic Church around the
world has been rocked by scandals involving pedophile priests, and the
Vatican has been grappling with how to control the damage.
- In his document, known in Latin as a ``Motu Proprio''
and one of the highest forms of papal directives, the Pope authorized the
Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to issue guidelines
on how to deal with the problem.
- Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, head of the Congregation,
which deals with matters of faith and morals, sent a letter to all Roman
Catholic bishops and heads of religious orders outlining the Vatican's
- ``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 by the necessary sanctions and by the pastoral
care offered by the bishops and others responsible,'' the letter said.
- Ratzinger's letter said that if a local bishop or head
of a religious order became aware of ``even a hint'' of a case of pedophilia
``he must open an investigation and inform the (Rome) Congregation.''
- SECRET CHURCH COURT
- A local Church tribunal, made up of priests, should hear
the case, which could be referred to the Vatican, but the procedures would
be covered by church secrecy.
- The letter made no mention of whether a bishop should
inform civil authorities if a Church court found a priest guilty.
- Last September, a French court handed down a three-month
suspended jail term to a Roman Catholic bishop for failing to tell police
that a priest in his diocese had admitted having sexually abused children.
- The Congregation, the modern successor of the Inquisition,
included acts of pedophilia by priests as one of the ``grave offences''
against the Church.
- A cover sheet was attached asking the recipients not
to divulge the information contained in the letter, Church sources said.
The cover sheet was not published in the official record.
- Pedophilia scandals, particularly in developed countries,
have given the Church a black eye and have cost local dioceses millions
of dollars in legal fees and financial settlements.
- In a high-profile case in 2000, a U.S. jury found the
Catholic diocese of Dallas, Texas, had concealed sexual abuse of boys by
a priest and awarded the victims $119.6 million in damages -- the largest
award up to then in a sexual abuse case.
- The document established a 10-year statute of limitations,
beginning on the victim's 18th birthday, in cases of pedophilia.
- Priests found guilty of pedophilia can be dismissed from
the Church and stripped of their priestly functions.