Vatican to Investigate Paedophile Priest in Secret       

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 Vatican to investigate paedophile priests in secret


VATICAN CITY - The Vatican has quietly issued new rules for Roman Catholic churches around the world to deal with paedophile priests, saying they should stand trial in secret ecclesiastical courts.

Pope John Paul and the Vatican issued two documents on the problem last year, but they were not 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 paedophile 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 authorised 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 concerns.

"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 paedophilia "he must open an investigation and inform the [Rome] Congregation".

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 sexually abusing children.

The Congregation, the modern successor of the Inquisition, included acts of paedophilia by priests as one of the "grave offences" against the Church. A separate cover sheet asked the recipients not to divulge the information contained in the letter, Church sources said.

Paedophilia scandals, particularly in developed countries, have given the Church a black eye and cost local dioceses millions of dollars in legal fees and settlements.


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