Pope acts against paedophile clergy
By CNN's Rome Bureau Chief Alessio Vinci
VATICAN CITY (CNN) -- Pope John Paul II is taking action against a problem that the church has been widely criticised for handling poorly: priests involved in sexual child abuse.
There has not been a problem in the life of the Catholic Church in the last 30 year that is more traumatic and painful than the problem of accusations of sexual misconduct directed against priests, especially in cases involving children.
This has been both an enormously difficult pastoral problem, it has also been a public relations problem, and it has also been a big financial problem.
The Vatican has now decided to take direct action against the problem, by ordering its bishops to investigate priestly sex abuse cases.
The papal government does not like to speak openly of the issue of clergymen accused of sexually abusing children and the Roman Catholic church has often tried to control the damage.
Tarcisio Bertone, Doctrinal Congregation Secretary, told CNN: "We can say there is a paedophilia emergency, but we should not exaggerate it.
"Because, of a total of 500,000 priests in the world, only a small minority have betrayed their mission."
In response to the problems the "small minority" has caused the church, the pope has issued a series of new rules.
Bishops are now required to report probable cases of sexual misconduct directly to the Vatican which will carry out a discreet investigation.
The new rules also call for the cases to be handled by Vatican courts which are staffed by priests only.
Some Vatican insiders fear that the secrecy imposed by the new rules could be interpreted as an attempt by the church to "cover up" the crime, but Archbishop Tarcisio says everybody benefits from keeping the issue low profile -- the victims, the families and the accused.
John Allen, of the National Catholic Reporter, said: "What the Vatican wants to do is to keep this a judicial process, make sure that the priest, the accused person, has the right to defend himself.
"But at the same time the people who have been injured have the right to make sure that somebody is going to respond to their situation."
The Vatican recognises paedophilia as a problem which needs to be dealt with swiftly and says the new rules are aimed at what it calls quote "grave offences."
Bertone said: "The church is worried and wants to make clear who is competent to deal with such sensitive cases.
"The Vatican wants to remain informed, to follow the phenomenon, to be able to prevent it and when possible, cure it."
Some observers also believe the church may have been motivated by financial reasons.
Allen said: "There are some estimates that the Catholic Church has paid out something in the order of $1 billion settling various law suits that these sex abuse cases have caused. And that is obviously a big price tag."
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