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Vatican wrestles with pedophilia scandals

Bertone says that the church is "worried about the scandals provoked by news reports."  

From Alessio Vinci

ROME, Italy (CNN) -- Rocked by a series of scandals involving priests accused of sexual misconduct, the Vatican is wrestling with how best to handle such cases, which have shaken Catholics worldwide.

"It is evident the pedophilia cases exist and with today's media coverage, the cases become immediately public domain," said Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone, secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

"The church is worried about the problem, but also worries about the scandals provoked by news reports."

In the United States, reports of priests who have molested children have mounted and the church has paid out millions of dollars to settle many of the cases.

Just Monday, the FBI announced that two priests were among more than 40 people arrested as part of major investigation into child pornography on the Internet. Last week, the Vatican accepted the resignation of U.S. bishop in Florida who offered to step down after admitting to molesting a teenage boy more than 25 years ago.

CNN's Alessio Vinci reports the problem of priests accused of sexual misconduct is being hotly debated in the Vatican (March 19)

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U.S. cardinal defends handling of sex abuse cases 

And in Massachusetts, 86 plaintiffs are suing the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston over sex abuse allegations against John Geoghan, a defrocked priest convicted last month on charges of fondling a 10-year-old boy a decade ago.

The problem is not confined to the United States.

"There was a case in France recently where a bishop received a suspended sentence of three months for failure to exercise sufficient oversight over a sexual abuser," said John Allen, the Vatican correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter, a weekly publication based in the United States. "There is a case in Poland today where an archbishop is being accused of sexual misconduct by a seminarian."

Allen said the problem goes beyond the cases highlighted in the United States.  

Pope John Paul II recently distributed a series of new guidelines requiring bishops to report probable cases of sexual misconduct directly to the Vatican. Once a case is reported, a church tribunal composed only of priests will hear it.

The rules, however, impose strict secrecy on any investigation, and observers say the process fails to provide a uniform solution.

"At the moment, the pressure is certainly growing on the U.S. Bishops Conference and on the Vatican to put in place certain uniform principles having to do with things like zero tolerance for abuses of children, having to do with necessity of reporting to police and civil authorities allegations of sexual abuse of children," Allen said.

What the Vatican refuses to discuss is the priestly requirement of celibacy, saying there is no proven link between pedophilia and sexual abstinence. Several church leaders have pointed out that there are many pedophiles who are married.


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