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Vatican to strengthen rules on handling priest paedophilia

VATICAN CITY, Thursday 15 July 2010 (AFP) - Faced with an avalanche of paedophile priest scandals and accusations of high-level complacency, the Roman Catholic Church is to publish Thursday new rules on the handling of sex abuse cases.

The text was to be issued around midday (1000 GMT), a source close to the Vatican told AFP.

In the spotlight is the canon law statute of limitations for sex abuse crimes -- currently 10 years after the victim's 18th birthday -- while countless unresolved cases date back decades.

Some observers say the statute of limitations may be extended to 20 years, while others say it may be extended indefinitely.

The text may also set down rules obliging diocesan bishops -- long accused of protecting abusers from prosecution, turning them into repeat offenders -- to hand them over to civil criminal justice authorities, observers say.

"Guidelines" published in April on the Vatican website at the height of abuse scandals sweeping the Church merely recommended the course of action.

The revisions will notably update a 2001 document -- a "motu proprio" signed by Pope Benedict XVI's predecessor John Paul II -- dealing with "serious crimes."

That text was prepared by Benedict, who as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was the Vatican's chief moral enforcer as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF).

The new rules will also deem abuse of disabled people to be as serious as that of children, according to Italy's ANSA news agency.

"In this way the Church is showing its 360-degree attentiveness to the dignity of the person, even the weakest," a source close to the CDF told ANSA last week.

Another expected change concerns child pornography, which may be classified as a "serious offence", observers say.

Paedophile priest scandals and allegations of high-level cover-ups have surged again since last year and rocked the Catholic Church in Europe and the United States.

The pope himself has faced allegations that, as archbishop of Munich and later as the head of the CDF, he helped to protect predator priests.

Benedict has accepted a number of resignations by bishops and other high-ranking clergy in recent months.

The pope issued a pastoral letter to Irish Catholics in March expressing shame and remorse for the revelations of abuse committed by those entrusted with the care of young people in Ireland, in many cases stretching back decades.

The scandals snowballed with revelations in the pope's native Germany, Belgium, Austria, United States, Brazil and other countries.

Benedict has repeatedly condemned paedophile priests, and he has met with abuse victims in Australia, the United States and Malta.

The updated version of the 2001 motu proprio on sacramental crimes will also list the attempted ordination of women as priests as a "crime against faith," Vatican watchers say.

The CDF decreed in 2007 that those who attempt to ordain women -- and the women concerned -- are subject to automatic excommunication.

MySinchew 2010.07.15


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