Friday 19 November 2010

World's cardinals meet for unprecedented sex abuse talks

VATICAN CITY: Cardinals from around the world met Friday for unprecedented talks on paedophile priests, as activists called for the Church to end "symbolic gestures" and release files on the abuses.

More than 100 of the Roman Catholic Church's 203 cardinals took part in the meeting in the Vatican, which was also expected to discuss the issue of religious freedom and conversions of Anglicans to Catholicism.

The closed-door meeting began at 0830 GMT and talks on "the Church's response to sexual abuse cases" were expected to start at 1600 GMT.

Pope Benedict XVI invited the cardinals to take part earlier this month.

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.

The abuse talks will be led by US Cardinal William Joseph Levada, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the body in charge of Church dogma that was led for more than 20 years by the current pope.

Levada, a conservative who was previously the archbishop of San Francisco, has been heavily criticised by anti-abuse campaigners in the United States.

His archdiocese was successfully sued in 2002 by a whistle-blowing priest, who claimed he was put under pressure by Church authorities for reporting another priest for making apparent sexual advances on a teenage boy.

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.

The revelations have been succeeded by hundreds of abuse reports across the United States and Europe.

Benedict has condemned the 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.

The Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests (SNAP), a US campaign group that has been very critical of the Vatican, said it would hold a protest in Piazza Navona, a tourist-heavy square in central Rome, from 1400 GMT.

The group said the Church 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."

SNAP said it was asking "bishops and cardinals to act immediately regardless of what action or inaction the Vatican itself may or may not take."

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

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

Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi meanwhile played down expectations of any major outcome from Friday's meeting.

"It's a communication, information, clarification, reflection on some questions but not a very thorough examination," he said ahead of the talks. 

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