05/16/2011, 00.00
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Helping victims, forming good priests, cooperating with civil authorities to stop paedophilia

Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issues circular letter on "Guidelines" that all bishops' conferences in the world must prepare within one year to deal with cases of sexual abuse by priests and religious. Protection of minors the priority.

Vatican City (AsiaNews) - Closeness and listening to the victims of paedophile priests, formation programs for future priests and religious and support for those who are already working with civil authorities, including the reporting of cases. There are indications that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has given to all bishops for the preparation of "Guidelines" that all Episcopal conferences must prepare by May 2012 to deal with cases of sexual abuse of minors by clergy in ways appropriate to specific situations in different regions of the world.

The Vatican indications are contained in a circular letter signed by the prefect of the Congregation, Cardinal William Levada, released today, which is divided into "General considerations " of the matter (Victims of sexual abuse: Child protection: The formation of future priests and religious: The support for priests and cooperation with civil authorities ), applicable canonical legislation on the subject (recalling that in the case of child abuse under canon law terms of prescription has increased to 20 years from the victims’ 18th birthday and in some cases, can be completely excluded) and "procedural guidelines" for bishops.

Priority is given to those who have suffered abuse. "The Church - writes Card. Levada - in the person of the Bishop or his delegate, should be prepared to listen to the victims and their families, and to be committed to their spiritual and psychological assistance " Attention should then be given to the formation of future priests ("candidates should be formed in an appreciation of chastity and celibacy, and the responsibility of the cleric for spiritual fatherhood ") and those already ordained, in particular, "emphasizing the importance of prayer and of mutual support in the priestly fraternity".

The requirement for cooperation with civil authorities is of great importance, also because in the past it has been the focus of must controversy, where it says "Specifically, without prejudice to the sacramental internal forum, the prescriptions of civil law regarding the reporting of such crimes to the designated authority should always be followed.  This collaboration, moreover, not only concerns cases of abuse committed by clerics, but also those cases which involve religious or lay persons who function in ecclesiastical structures"

In part that recalls the requirements of canon law, the competence of bishops and major superiors for the preliminary investigation is underlined and, if the allegations are credible, their obligation to refer the matter to the Congregation for the Doctrine of faith.

Those found guilty, according to the seriousness of the case, will have their ministry "restricted”, be excluded from contact with minors, or will be "discharged" from the clerical state. In some cases, at the request of the priest, they can be relieved from the clerical state, including celibacy.

The guidelines offered to the Episcopal conferences, also stresses the need to offer assistance to victims, to treat the complainant with respect and ensure the privacy and reputation of the people to take due account of the civil laws of the country, "in particular as regards any requirement to notify the civil authorities" to provide information on the allegation and give the accused the opportunity to respond, and in any case a just and worthy support, to exclude the return to public ministry of the priest, in cases where it could cause a danger to minors or scandal to the community.

"The guidelines prepared by the episcopal conferences – concludes the Vatican document - seek to protect minors and to help victims in finding assistance and reconciliation.  They will also indicate that the responsibility for dealing with the delicts of sexual abuse of minors by clerics belongs in the first place to the Diocesan Bishop.  Finally, the Guidelines will lead to a common orientation within each Episcopal Conference helping to better harmonize the resources of single Bishops in safeguarding minors. "

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