Vatican to set up clergy sexual abuse help centre

Bavarians march through St Peter's Square, Rome, to celebrate 60th anniversary of Pope Benedict's ordination (12 June 2011) Scandals of sexual abuse by clergy have cast a long shadow over the Roman Catholic Church

The Vatican is to set up a new e-learning centre to help safeguard children and victims of sexual abuse by clergy, as part of its efforts to deal with damaging scandals.

The Roman Catholic Church is preparing for a major conference on abuse to take place next February in Rome.

The Vatican has told bishops to come up with guidelines to combat abuse, in line with local laws.

The Catholic Church has been rocked by scandals of sexual abuse by priests.

The centre will offer guidance to those who have to respond to abuse cases, as well as providing information for victims. Its advice will be available in German, English, French, Spanish and Italian.

"The e-learning centre will work with medical institutions and universities to develop a constant response to the problems of sexual abuse," said Monsignor Klaus Peter Franzl of the archdiocese of Munich, according to the Reuters news agency.

Officials said private donors had pledged funds to maintain the database for an initial three years, the Associated Press reported.

Loss of faith

Victims' groups have criticised the Vatican for its slow response to allegations of sexual abuse by clergy.

Baroness Sheila Hollins, who will be one of the main speakers at the conference, said she hoped the victims' point of view would be at the forefront of the debate.

"Some have lost their faith and are unable to go in a church because of the presence of a priest; others have kept their faith despite it all," said Baroness Hollins, who is professor of psychiatry at St George's University in London.

The BBC's David Willey in Rome says the Vatican appears to be coming round to the view that the measures taken by the leadership of the Catholic Church in England and Wales during the past decade to deal with clerical sexual abuse of children could provide a model for other countries to follow.

Next year's conference will include experts in psychiatry, church law, sociology and child protection programmes, as well as 200 bishops and religious superiors. It is being held in conjunction with the Pontifical Gregorian University, a Jesuit institution.

Last month, Pope Benedict XVI told bishops around the world they must report promptly all suspected cases of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic priests to local police.

The Vatican's sex crimes prosecutor Monsignor Charles Scicluna admitted some bishops' conferences had no interest in being forced into drafting guidelines.

But he told reporters in Rome that bishops would be unwise to ignore the advice of experts at the symposium.

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