Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Italy bishop asks for trust despite abuse scandal

Last updated May 24, 2010 2:24 p.m. PT

Italy bishop asks for trust despite abuse scandal
By NICOLE WINFIELD
ASSOCIATED PRESS WRITER

ROME -- The head of Italy's bishops' conference asked families to trust the Catholic Church despite the clerical abuse scandal, insisting Monday that it had never intended to underestimate the problem.

Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco dedicated more than half of his speech to the bishops' annual general assembly to the scandal, repeating the pope's recent comments that forgiveness of a priest's sins can never take the place of justice for his crimes.

Bagnasco's comments came as more cases are coming to light in the Vatican's backyard: Just Monday a priest in Savona went on trial for alleged sexual violence against a 12-year-old girl, the ANSA news agency reported.

And last week, a Rome bishop testified in the case of another accused priest that he knew about rumors of abuse two years before the priest was arrested yet didn't alert police or the Vatican as called for by Vatican norms.

The Vatican's sex crimes prosecutor, Monsignor Charles Scicluna, has said there was a widespread "culture of silence" about clerical abuse in Italy. That silence may explain both the Rome bishops' actions and why so few cases have emerged in this overwhelmingly Roman Catholic country.

Bagnasco's comments appeared designed to at least give the impression that the Italian bishops were confronting the problem. But he offered few details of concrete measures, saying only that Italian bishops had intensified education efforts for seminarians, focusing on prevention and formation efforts for priests. He said victims were the church's primary concern, yet offered no evidence of any pastoral outreach or protection measures.

"Public opinion, like families, must know that we as the Church will do everything to always merit the trust that generally is given to us, even by non-believers among parents," Bagnasco said.

He said pedophile priests need justice, treatment - and grace, as well.

"These facts are today fruit of a deeper understanding of the drama of pedophilia, which the Church regardless has at no time ever intended to underestimate," he said.

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