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Church backs state investigations

Cooperate with police over child abuse, Italian bishops say

30 March, 16:39
Church backs state investigations (ANSA) - Vatican City, March 30 - Italian bishops on Tuesday stressed the importance of cooperating with secular authorities investigating child abuse claims and expressed their support for victims of attacks by priests. In a statement issued at the end of the Italian Bishops Conference (CEI) assembly, under way since last week, the bishops refuted claims they opposed working with police and investigators. "They agree on the fact that a rigorous and transparent application of canonical procedural and criminal rules are the main path to search for the truth," the statement said. "They do not oppose the state authorities whose task it is to investigate the substance of allegations, but rather support those authorities through faithful cooperation". It said the bishops "reaffirmed their support for the victims of abuse and their families, wounded and offended by the Church itself". Victims' associations and media reports have repeatedly questioned the extent to which the Catholic Church has worked with the police to punish offenders and prevent further abuse over the years. Last week, Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi strongly denied allegations by the New York Times that a longstanding Vatican secrecy rule prohibited senior church figures from reporting paedophilia cases to the police.

A 1962 canonical law cited by the daily "never in fact prohibited reporting abuse to the judicial authorities", he said. Pope Benedict XVI has also come under fire over a 2001 directive he issued in his former role as Vatican doctrinal chief saying that investigations should be kept in-house.

But in the CEI statement, Italian bishops rallied to the pope's defence, insisting he had shown a "determined and enlightened attitude".

They praised him for leaving "no margins of uncertainty" and refusing to "indulge in downplaying" the scandals. "He invited the ecclesiastical community to ascertain the truth of what happened and take action where needed," they said.

"He has the full and affectionate support of Italy's bishops".

The statement also underscored the need for detailed consideration before accepting candidates for the priesthood and reiterated the importance of priestly celibacy. The issue of celibacy has been in the spotlight lately, after an Austrian archbishop appeared to suggest the Catholic Church should reconsider the issue in light of the abuse scandals.

"Once again [the Italian bishops] confirm the need for a careful selection of candidates for the priesthood, valuing human and emotional maturity, as well as spiritual and pastoral maturity," the statement said. "The value of celibacy, which is in no way an impediment or impairment of sexuality, represents, particularly in these days, an alternative and humanly enriching way to live one's humanity". The Catholic Church has been caught at the centre of an ever-widening scandal of abuse claims in recent weeks, with dozens of fresh allegations surfacing in the Netherlands, Switzerland, Austria and Poland.

On Tuesday, the Church in the pope's native Germany announced it was launching a telephone hotline for sexual abuse victims.

In a long-awaited letter to the Irish faithful ten days ago, Benedict apologised for the abuse cases and ordered a clerical inspection of Irish dioceses but took no action against bishops there.

The pope's letter met with a mixed reception and many victims' groups said it did not go far enough.

Some called for a personal 'mea culpa' from Benedict, particularly in regard to his 2001 guidelines.

While Church representatives have repeatedly expressed their sympathy and support for the victims of abuse, some have also accused the media of overstepping the line. On Tuesday, an editorial in the Vatican daily L'Osservatore described "cowardly rumours against a pope". "It is clear that more than one party wants to besmirch the white robes of this strong and clear-sighted witness, doing their very best to shape destructive projects," it read. Also on Tuesday, one of Italy's most senior church figures came to the Church's defence in an interview with Vatican Radio.

Ex-CEI chief and former vicar of Rome, Cardinal Camillo Ruini, said some in recent weeks had sought to "eradicate from people's hearts their faith in the Church and, I fear, their faith in Christ and in God".

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