Vatican City

Francis 'to continue decisive action' on paedophilia

Pope pledges to maintain line of Benedict XVI

Francis 'to continue decisive action' on paedophilia

(By Paul Virgo) Vatican City, April 5 - Pope Francis has pledged to maintain the line of "decisive" action adopted by his predecessor Benedict XVI in dealing with child sex abuse cases in the Catholic Church, the Vatican said Friday. In a meeting with Mons. Gerhard Ludwig Muller, who is in charge of paedophilia issues in his role as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Francis said he would "continue in the line wanted by Benedict XVI". A Vatican statement explained that this meant: "acting decisively as regards cases of sexual abuse, promoting measures that protect minors, above all; help for those who have suffered such violence in the past; necessary procedures against those found guilty; (and) the commitment of bishops' conferences in formulating and implementing the necessary directives in this is area that is so important for the church's witness and credibility". The Catholic Church has been rocked in recent years by a long series of paedophilia scandals, most of which emerged under Benedict's eight-year papacy, although in many cases the abuse dates back decades and was hidden by the clergy. In cases in countries including the United States, Ireland, Australia, Netherlands, Norway, Austria, Germany, Belgium and Italy, the Church was found to have discouraged victims from reporting abuse to the police. There were also a number of documented cases of Church authorities moving paedophile priests away from one post to another, where they repeated their crimes with fresh victims. Benedict's initial response to the scandals was depicted by many as being defensive. The former pope also personally came under fire for allegedly failing to respond properly to several abuse cases when he was in charge of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Church's doctrinal watchdog. But he became increasingly open about sex abuse, apologised for it and in 2010 he issued new Church instructions on dealing with paedophile priests, making it mandatory for cases to be reported to the police. Benedict also prayed with abuse victims on many of his trips overseas, including to Malta and Britain. Nevertheless, the US Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), was unimpressed by Francis's vow to continue the path set by his predecessor. "Once again, as has happened hundreds of times already, a top Catholic official says he's asking another top Catholic official to take action about pedophile priests and complicit bishops," SNAP Outreach Director Barbara Dorris said in a statement. "Big deal... Catholic officials have long discussed abuse - privately for centuries and publicly for decades. Action, not discussion, is needed. "We can't confuse words with actions. When we do, we hurt kids". Francis's legacy as the head of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics will depend to a significant degree on how he manages the sex-abuse issue. The run-up to last month's conclave to elect Benedict's successor was overshadowed to some degree by controversies about cardinals who allegedly had tainted records in their handling of such cases. Before the conclave SNAP issued a list of a 'dirty dozen' cardinals it said should not be considered as papal contenders, such as Sean O'Malley from Boston, Peter Turkson from Ghana and Italy's Angelo Scola, who were considered frontrunners at the time. Shortly before the conclave British Cardinal Keith O'Brien resigned as archbishop of Scotland and withdrew from the papal election after admitting to inappropriate sexual conduct in the 1980s with a number of seminarists. But Cardinal Roger Mahony, the former archbishop of Los Angeles, took part in the conclave despite petitions for him not to because of his role in allegedly covering up instances of priest sex abuse in the United States. A victims group has called on Francis to open the Argentine Church's files on its alleged protection of two priests who were eventually convicted of sexually assaulting children when he was the archbishop of Buenos Aires. The US-based Bishop Accountability group cited the cases of Father Julio Cesar Grassi, who ran a children's foundation and was convicted of pedophilia in 2008, and Father Napoleon Sasso, convicted in 2007 of abusing girls at a soup kitchen in suburban Buenos Aires. As archbishop of Buenos Aires, the future pope said his archdiocese had been very attentive to the problem and "rigorous" in its screening and selection of candidates for the priesthood and religious life. Friday's Vatican statement added that Francis "assures that those who have suffered abuse are particularly present in his attention and his prayers".

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