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Vatican says wrong to single out Church over abuse
VATICAN CITY |
VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - The Vatican said on Tuesday it was wrong to focus blame for child abuse on the Catholic Church and denied accusations it had sought to cover up paedophilia by its clergymen around Europe.
Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi acknowledged the "gravity of the crisis the Church is undergoing" after fresh allegations surfaced in recent weeks of widespread sexual abuse by clergymen in Germany, Austria and Holland.
But he denied allegations by a German government minister that the Vatican had colluded to cover up paedophilia. Reports last month alleged that Catholic priests had sexually abused over 100 children at Jesuit schools there.
"Errors committed by the institutions and members of the Church are particularly reprehensible given the Church's educational and moral responsibility," Lombardi told Vatican Radio.
"But every objective and well-informed person knows that the issue is much broader, and concentrating accusations on the Church alone gets things out of perspective," he said.
Lombardi cited a recent report by Austrian authorities which detailed 17 cases of abuse in institutions linked to the Catholic Church, but 510 in other organisations. "It would be good to worry about these as well," he said.
The latest allegations follow years of damaging scandal in Ireland and the United States. The U.S. Church has paid some $2 billion in settlements to victims since 1992.
The Dutch Roman Catholic Church on Tuesday said it would ask an independent commission to look into more than 200 reports of alleged sexual abuses by priests, in response to an increasing number of victims coming forward.
Germans were outraged by reports of abuse by Jesuits and allegations of beating and paedophilia at three Catholic schools in Bavaria, including one linked to a prestigious choir run by Pope Benedict's brother from 1964 to 1994.
Rev. Georg Ratzinger, 86, has acknowledge he slapped pupils in the face to discipline them but has denied any knowledge of sexual abuse.
German Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger accused the Vatican of covering up severe sexual abuse in the Church. She said a 2001 Catholic congregational directive made severe cases of abuse subject to papal secrecy.
Lombardy said the 2001 missive, "De delictis gravioribus" ("On more serious crimes") -- written by Benedict before he became pope -- emphasised paedophilia was one of the worst crimes under Church law.
"Anyone who understands it, knows it was a decisive step to remind the episcopacy of the gravity of the problem and to encourage concrete measures to prevent and tackle it," he said.
Lombardy defended the record of the Church in Germany, Austria and Holland in reacting decisively to the allegations, saying it had always placed the interests of victims first and had been quick to take measures to prevent any recurrence.
Lombardy welcomed a German government proposal for a round-table discussion on April 23 with victims, that would include talk of potential compensation -- a proposal previously rejected by the head of the German Bishops Conference, Robert Zollitsch.
Zollitsch has issued a public apology for the abuse and is due at the Vatican on Friday to discuss the scandal.
Pope Benedict, himself a German, summoned Irish bishops to the Vatican last month to reprimand them after a government report said Church leaders had covered up widespread abuse of children by priests for 30 years.
However, victims groups expressed dismay, saying the meeting did not conclude who should pay for the cover up and failed to mention any Vatican responsibility for looking the other way.
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