Three Roman Catholic bishops in Belgium, reacting to damaging sexual abuse scandals in their ranks, have taken the rare step of urging their Church to consider easing its ban on married men in the priesthood.
Here are some details of the major scandals in the Roman Catholic church.
-- Child sexual abuse was widespread in the Belgian Catholic Church and drove at least 13 victims to suicide, according to a report published on Sept 10 by the Belgian Catholic Church commission.
-- The 475 cases it recorded included victims as young as two. Two-thirds were male and boys aged about 12 were particularly vulnerable. In most cases, abuse tailed off when victims reached 15 or 16.
-- The commission which monitored complaints about sexual abuse of children by priests disbanded on June 28 after police seized all its files and a computer. The raids prompted a sharp reaction from Pope Benedict.
-- The raids embarrassed the Belgian Church, still reeling from the resignation of Bruges Bishop Roger Vangheluwe in April. Vangheluwe had admitted he had sexually abused a boy. That prompted a wave of abuse complaints to the commission.
-- On Aug. 31, the Roman Catholic Church in Germany unveiled new, tougher guidelines on dealing with the sexual abuse of minors, imposing a general obligation on church authorities to report suspected cases.
-- Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, Germany's top Catholic bishop, apologised in March for mistakes he made in failing to report to authorities one case of suspected abuse by a priest in the Freiburg diocese nearly 20 years ago.
-- Prosecutors in Freiburg said on June 2 charges of aiding and abetting sexual abuse had been filed against Zollitsch.
-- A Jesuit investigation, commissioned in January, in June cited 205 allegations of sexual abuse against priests at Jesuit schools in Germany, revealing decades of systematic abuse and attempts at a cover-up by the Roman Catholic order.
-- May 2009 - The Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse issued a five-volume report saying that priests abused children for decades in Catholic-run institutions.
-- Nov 2009 - The government-commissioned Murphy report into abuse in Dublin from 1975 to 2004 said Church authorities covered up cases of child sexual abuse until the mid-1990s.
-- Feb 2010 - Benedict held crisis talks with 24 Irish bishops at the Vatican. The bishops promised him they were committed to cooperating with authorities.
-- March 2010 - Benedict told victims of child sex abuse by Irish clergy he felt "shame and remorse". He also announced a formal Vatican investigation of Irish dioceses, seminaries and religious orders. Irish victims accused the pope of evading the question of Vatican responsibility.
-- The pope accepted the resignation of Bishop John Magee of Cloyne, accused of mishandling reports of sexual abuse in his diocese on March 24. He later accepted the resignation of two other Irish bishops.
-- The Vatican on May 31 named two cardinals and three archbishops from England, the U.S. and Canada to lead its inquiry into sexual abuse by clergy in Ireland that is to begin in the autumn.
* UNITED STATES:
-- June 2002 - The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops agreed to bar paedophile priests from ever again acting as clerics, but not necessarily to expel them from the priesthood.
-- Feb 2004 - Independent researchers said 10,667 people accused U.S. priests of child sex abuse from 1950 to 2002. More than 17 percent of accusers had siblings who were also abused.
-- July 2007 - The Archdiocese of Los Angeles agreed to pay $660 million to 500 victims of sexual abuse dating as far back as the 1940s, the largest compensation deal of its kind.
-- March 2010 - The Vatican criticised The New York Times for its coverage of the scandals. The Vatican denied any cover-up in the abuse of 200 deaf boys by Reverend Lawrence Murphy from the 1950s to 1960s after the newspaper reported he was not defrocked despite warnings sent to the Vatican and Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, then the church's top doctrinal official, now Pope Benedict.
-- Pope Benedict met victims of abuse by priests during his April 2008 visit to the United States. The U.S. church has paid $2 billion in settlements to victims since 1992.
-- The Swiss bishops' conference said on June 2 that between January and May 2010 it had received reports of 72 perpetrators abusing 104 victims, up from 14 perpetrators and 15 victims in 2009.
-- July 2008 - On a visit to Australia, Pope Benedict apologised for sex abuse by clergy. At that time there had been 107 convictions for abuse in the Australian Catholic church.
-- July 2000 - London Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor acknowledged making a mistake in a previous post in the 1980s by allowing a paedophile priest to continue working. The priest was jailed in 1997 for abusing nine boys.
-- September 2010 - Pope Benedict made one of his strongest apologies to victims of sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests in London while on a state visit to Britain. He expressed his deep sorrow to innocent victims of "these unspeakable crimes".
- In March 2009 Pope Benedict ordered an inquiry into the Legionaries of Christ priestly order, whose founder was discovered to be a sexual molester. In 2006, the pope told the founder, Father Marcial Maciel, to retire to a life of "prayer and penitence". Maciel died in 2008.
-- His order acknowledged in 2009 that he had fathered at least one child with a mistress, and it formally apologised to his victims in March 2010.
Sources: Reuters/United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
(Writing by David Cutler, London Editorial Reference Unit)
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