Swiss Catholic bishops toughen rules on sex abuse

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Swiss Roman Catholic bishops on Wednesday toughened rules on sexual abuse by the clergy by agreeing to systematically denounce priests to the police if they face strong suspicions of abuse.

The move, which follows a renewed wave of allegations of sexual molestation by priests in Europe, changed guidelines that had placed the emphasis on encouraging a suspected priest to hand himself in.

"In the case of a founded suspicion, ecclesiastical authorities will denounce abuse to the competent civilian authorities, unless the victim or their representative opposes it," the Swiss Bishops Conference announced after a three-day assembly.

The rules also insist on criminal charges if there was thought to be an immediate danger of recurrence of paedophile attack.

New figures released by the Swiss Roman Catholic Church showed a surge in allegations of sex abuse in Switzerland after scandals hit the clergy in Ireland and several other countries this year.

Since January, 104 victims informed Church authorities of such cases spreading back 60 years, involving 72 priests. Nine of the cases concerned abuse committed since 1990.

By contrast, last year only 14 victims came forward to a network of special support centres in dioceses.

Most of the allegations involved abuse of adolescents, while 11 victims were aged under 12 at the time of the alleged offence. Seventeen were adults.

"Justice must be rendered to victims and the culprits must be held responsible, even if the abuse is distant and the culprits have died," the bishops said, acknowledging that "a serious fault" had emerged in the Church.

Prosecutors in Germany said Wednesday they were probing Germany's top archbishop on suspicion of abetting sexual abuse in the 1960s.

The Vatican has for months been battling allegations that the Church had protected paedophile priests from prosecution in the United States and several European countries.

© 2010 AFP

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