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Swiss bishops plan new tribunal after sexual abuse revelations

AFP
AFP - [email protected]
Swiss bishops plan new tribunal after sexual abuse revelations
(Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP)

Following shocking sexual abuse revelations within Switzerland's Catholic Church, the Catholic dioceses' coordinating body said Saturday it planned to create a tribunal to discipline clergy members who break ecclesiastic law.

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The Bishops' Conference of Switzerland said it was "devastated" after a study identified almost a thousand victims and widespread efforts to cover up abuse.

In a statement, it said it had determined concrete measures to strengthen safeguards and help ensure victims are heard and they and their families receive justice and are supported.

Among the key measures, the conference said it wanted to "create an ecclesiastic criminal and disciplinary tribunal for the Church of Switzerland".

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"Swiss criminal laws will of course continue to prevail and criminal prosecutorial authorities will always be solicited for any cases of abuse or other infractions committed in the ecclesiastic setting," it stressed.

The new tribunal, it said, would instead handle sanctions needed against members of the clergy who violate ecclesiastic law.

The conference said it was in the process of setting up a meeting with Vatican authorities about how to bring the tribunal into being.

The statement comes after results were released earlier this month from a year-long inquiry by researchers at the University of Zurich, identifying 921 victims of sexual abuse within the Church since 1950.

The study also determined that most cases either went unreported or documents containing information were destroyed.

The study, which will be completed by a further three-year research campaign, comes after similar efforts to uncover clerical abuse in other parts of the world.

According to the initial findings, 74 percent of victims were children, while a total of 510 people, almost all men, were found to have committed the abuse.

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The Conference of Bishops also announced a separate investigation earlier this month following accusations that four current and two former bishops had covered up cases of sexual abuse by clergy.

Saturday's statement said that in addition to the planned tribunal, the conference was working towards creating a national centre tasked with receiving and gathering victim accounts.

It also guaranteed that researchers would have access to all the necessary archives, and that no further documents would be destroyed.

And it said it was standardising a requirement for an in-depth psychological evaluation for all seminary, clergy and layman positions.

"In the face of the abuse and the suffering that has taken place, the Swiss Bishops will never be able to do enough," Saturday's statement acknowledged.

"Continually adapting procedures to render justice to victims and to ensure abuse does not happen again is therefore a top priority."

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