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Italian bishops 'proud' of priests

'Generic accusations cast suspicion on everyone' says CEI

08 June, 14:05
Italian bishops 'proud' of priests (ANSA) - Vatican City, June 8 - Italy's bishops on Tuesday said they were "proud" of the country's priests and claimed they were the victims of "generic accusations" following worldwide paedophilia scandals.

"You are harried by generic accusations which have produced bitterness and pain and cast suspicion on everyone," said a message from the Italian Bishops Conference (CEI).

"We wish to express our cordial esteem and sympathy...above all, a word of gratitude," said the CEI message, released to mark the final days of Pope Benedict XVI's 'Year of the Priest'.

"We are proud of you!".

The CEI message came ten days after its chief, Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, admitted there was a "possibility" that some of the 100 canon law abuse trials in Italy over the last decade may have involved cover-ups by bishops.

Bagnasco did not cite any of the cases and was unable to put a number on the victims.

However, he suggested that Italian Church officials may have sometimes been more inclined to protect the Church rather than reporting cases to the police.

"It was something wrong, which must be corrected and overcome," he said, without going into further detail.

Three days later, on May 31, a victim of a paedophile priest in the town of Porto Santa Rufina near Rome accused the local bishop, Msgr Gino Reali, of covering for the priest, Father Ruggero Conti. Bagnasco was speaking at the end of CEI's 61st annual assembly, where his No.2, Msgr Mariano Crociata, had earlier bowed to media pressure to say how many child abuse cases there had been in Italy.

Crociata said there had been "about 100" in the last decade but did not say how many priests had been prosecuted or defrocked.

The public record of abuse cases in Italy has been emerging slowly.

Last month a priest went on trial in Savona for alleged sexual violence against a 12-year-old girl.

Then a 73-year-old Milan priest, Father Domenico Pezzini, known for his support of gay rights, was arrested for allegedly abusing a 13-year-old boy.

Bagnasco's remark on the possibility of cover-ups came a day after Pope Benedict XVI addressed the CEI assembly and made his most explicit plea yet for the Catholic Church to heal the wounds caused by the scandals.

A "humble and painful admission" of "the wounds caused by the weakness and sins of some of the Church's members" must lead to "interior renewal", Benedict said.

'BURN IN HELL'.

On May 29, a day after the CEI assembly closed, the Vatican official tasked with investigating abuse allegations warned that paedophile priests would burn in hell.

Speaking during a session of special prayers for abuse victims at St Peter's Basilica, Msgr Charles Scicluna said paedophile priests would face worse punishments in hell than laymen who committed the same offence.

In a recent interview with the Italian Catholic daily Avvenire, Scicluna said his office had examined over 3,000 allegations since taking over abuse investigations in 2001.

The Vatican has been responding with increasing openness to the scandals that first emerged in the US in 2002 before spreading to Australia, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, Austria, Germany and Italy.

Critics have accused the pope of failing to take proper action when he was head of the doctrinal office that deals with paedophilia cases.

The Vatican has said Benedict, on the contrary, made it easier to punish offenders as well as preventing paedophiles from becoming priests.

The pontiff has met with victims of paedophile priests in the US, Australia and, most recently, Malta where he is said to have wept as he prayed with them.

The Vatican recently published the guidelines it has been using since 2003, stressing all cases are reported to the police as soon as possible.

It has also said that Benedict will be able to defrock paedophiles immediately.

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