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Vatican puts abuse rules online to quell critics
VATICAN CITY |
VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - The Vatican published an online guide on Monday to rules for handling sex abuse charges against priests and defended the pope's handling of the media storm, saying he was a "great communicator in his own way".
Just over a year after Pope Benedict acknowledged the Holy See had been slow to embrace the Internet, after mishandling the case of a Holocaust-denying bishop, the Vatican posted an "idiot's guide" to its rules on how to deal with abuse charges.
Although the rules are not new, their publication in a short, simple format reflects the Roman Catholic Church's determination to deflect criticism that its response to the sex abuse scandal has been bureaucratic, secretive and defensive.
Official website www.vatican.va called it an "introductory guide which may be helpful to lay persons and non-canonists (referring to 'canon' or internal church law)" to rules for local churches on how to respond to sex abuse allegations.
It made clear high up that bishops must report crimes to the police, saying "civil law concerning reporting of crimes to the appropriate authorities should always be followed".
Bishops should probe every allegation, and any accusation with "a semblance of the truth" referred to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
This enforcement body once run by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict, is under fire from people representing victims of abuse for having responded too late or too leniently.
The brief document said that "in very grave cases where a civil criminal trial has found the cleric guilty of sexual abuse", the pope himself can be asked to dismiss the priest.
One victims' association, U.S.-based SNAP (Survivors' Network of those Abused by Priests), called for "deeds, not words" and said "church policies, whether online or not, are largely irrelevant" as bishops could easily ignore them.
The Vatican's response to media reporting of the abuse cases has often appeared defensive. It took the unusual step of chiding the New York Times by name for being in "attack mode" regarding the pope's response, when he was a cardinal, to the abuse of 200 deaf boys by a priest in the 1950s and 60s.
Last weekend a Vatican lawyer accused the media of a "rush to judgement" over accusations that Ratzinger, before being elected pope, tried to impede the defrocking of a Californian priest who sexually abused children.
The editor of Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano tried to portray the bookish Benedict, whose lack of media savvy is often contrasted with his charismatic predecessor John Paul II, as a pontiff who "may write by hand but is very sensitive to matters of communication" in the Internet age.
"The pope is a great communicator too, in his own way," said the editor, Giovanni Maria Vian. "Everyone has their own way of communicating depending on their personality. But it could be done better, this is true."
Speaking to foreign correspondents in Rome, Vian criticised poor standards of reporting. He toned down talk by some Vatican insiders of a plot against the pope, calling it "ridiculous", but said there was clearly a media campaign afoot.
He added that John Paul II had been subjected to such a campaign that contributed to the attempt on his life in 1981, and spoke of the "dangers" of defaming the present pontiff.
Vian blamed media outlets needing stories to counter sinking sales, as well as hostility to the Church. He predicted that "more cases will emerge because the campaign will continue, but eventually readers will get bored".
The editor said the pope was "calm as usual" and he denied reports "that the pope is alone and that the Vatican is a nest of vipers. I can say quite honestly that the Church is behind the pope and that there are no unfaithful servants".
(Reporting by Stephen Brown, editing by Paul Taylor)
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