E-Vatican at your service

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05:55 AM Apr 12, 2010

VATICAN CITY – The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith – the office once known more chillingly as the Inquisition – has long epitomised the secrecy and mystery of the Vatican. Now, the Vatican is starting to open up.

Today, it will post on its website a concise guide for the layman on how the Congregation handles sex abuse allegations.

Also on Friday, the Vatican said that Pope Benedict XVI would meet with more abuse victims and that transparency in dealing with abuse allegations is an “urgent requirement” for the church.

The laymen’s guide doesn’t contain any information that isn’t available to the public through a trip to a specialised religious library or a Vatican bookstore.

But it puts various sources of complicated canonical procedures together in a concise, easy-to-read, one-page guide, without cumbersome Latin phrases. The church’s internal justice system for dealing with abuse allegations has come under attack because of claims by victims that their accusations were long ignored by bishops more concerned about protecting the church and by the Congregation, which was headed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger from 1981 until he was elected Pope in 2005.

According to Vatican norms, issued in 2001 and summarised in the guide, a bishop must investigate every allegation of sexual abuse of a minor by a cleric.

If the accusation has a semblance of truth, the case is referred to the Congregation. If the evidence is overwhelming, the Congregation can refer the case directly to the Pope, who can issue a decree dismissing the priest from the priesthood altogether.

The Rev Thomas Doyle, a canon lawyer who has been the main expert witness for victims in hundreds of lawsuits against priests and diocese in the United States and elsewhere, said canonical trials can be an effective way to mete out justice – if they are held. The problem is that they have rarely been held, said Rev Doyle. AP

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