German Catholic Church rewrites sex abuse guidelines

Pope Benedict XVI leads the Angelus prayer from the balcony of his summer residence of Castelgandolfo, south of Rome, August 29, 2010
Image caption Germany, the Pope's home country, has been one of many countries hit by sex abuse accusations

The Catholic Church in Germany has issued tougher guidelines on the handling of reports of sex abuse.

The revised rules insist all allegations must be reported to prosecutors in an attempt to prevent cases being covered up.

But critics say the new advice does not go far enough to tackle the issue.

The Catholic Church in Germany and other European countries has been hit by repeated accusations of abuse.

Since the start of 2010, at least 300 people have alleged sexual or physical abuse by priests across Germany, the Pope's home country.

The new code firms up existing guidelines from 2002 which were criticised as being too weak.

The old guidelines had not required cases to be reported to law enforcement agencies, and had instead only "advised" it if the allegations were "proven".


Bishop of Trier, Stephan Ackermann, said the change of emphasis would mean cases being sent to police more quickly and that no-one found guilty of abuse would be able to work with children.

"The dreadful findings and experiences of recent months have shown us that the (previous) guidelines of 2002 were imprecise in some areas," he said.

"We also want to make sure that as many victims as possible... have the courage to come forward," he added, speaking in Trier in western Germany.

The code requires each diocese to have a "commissioner" who would serve as the first point of contact for anyone reporting abuse perpetrated by a Church insider.

But Christian Weisner of the We Are Church group said he did not believed the rules were broad enough, and said he wanted Germany to have a "zero tolerance" policy towards the issue.

"Once he has been an offender, we really don't want someone like that in the diocese anymore, even working in a nursing home or a prison," Mr Weisner told AP news agency.

He added that the guidelines also did not address financial compensation for victims.

The Church has acknowledged that it has failed to adequately investigate cases of abuse, and in some cases there was a cover-up with those accused being moved to a different diocese.

Many cases relate to abuse that occurred several decades ago.