19 Jun 2011

Vatican moves to tackle child sex abuse

11:45 am on 19 June 2011

The gathering will be next February in Rome, and bishops have been told to come up with guidelines to combat abuse, in line with local laws.

Also invited to the conference - being held in conjunction with the Pontifical Gregorian University, a Jesuit institution - will be experts in psychiatry, church law, sociology and child protection programmes.

The Catholic Church has been rocked by scandals over sexual abuse by priests.

The Vatican also intends to set up a new e-learning centre to help safeguard children and victims of sexual abuse by clergy, the BBC reports.

The centre will offer guidance to those who have to respond to abuse cases, as well as providing information for victims. Its advice will be available in German, English, French, Spanish and Italian.

Officials cited by the Associated Press say private donors have pledged funds to maintain the database for an initial three years.

Hopes victims' voices will be heard

Victims' groups have consistently criticised the Vatican for its slow response to allegations of sexual abuse by clergy.

Baroness Sheila Hollins, who will be one of the main speakers at the conference, says she hopes the victims' point of view will be at the forefront of the debate.

"Some have lost their faith and are unable to go in a church because of the presence of a priest; others have kept their faith despite it all," says Baroness Hollins, who is professor of psychiatry at St George's University in London.

The BBC's correspondent in Rome says the Vatican appears to be coming round to the view that the measures taken by the leadership of the Catholic Church in England and Wales during the past decade to deal with clerical sexual abuse of children could provide a model for other countries to follow.

Last month, Pope Benedict XVI told bishops around the world they must report promptly all suspected cases of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic priests to local police.