Roman Catholic leaders meeting at the Vatican are being advised to expect further disclosure of incidents of child abuse by priests in Asia.
The archbishop of Manila, Luis Antonio Tagle, is one of many senior Catholic clerics from around the world attending a meeting this week on the child-abuse issue. Their discussions centered on how the church should move forward from the many embarrassing revelations of clerical abuse of children that have become known in recent years. Tagle spoke at the final session of the symposium, called "Toward Healing and Renewal."
The Philippine archbishop told fellow prelates that a growing number of victims of such abuse have come forward in recent years in his country, and he predicted there are likely many more cases that have not yet been disclosed.
Tagle said many Asians are reluctant to report such incidents, fearing that by making details public they and their families will be shamed.
The archbishop's comments follow a similar warning issued in November by the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences, which called for "drastic and immediate measures" to contain the problem of abuse of minors and other vulnerable people. Pope Benedict has expressed shame and sorrow over the allegations that have rocked the church during the past decade, and he has directed bishops to agree on guidelines to prevent pedophilia by May of this year.
The Vatican's top official for dealing with sexual abuse of minors spoke frankly Wednesday to those attending the symposium -- about 200 people including bishops, leaders of priestly orders, victims of abuse and psychologists.
Monsignor Charles Scicluna denounced "a deadly culture of silence, or 'omerta,'" that has shrouded in secrecy many previous church investigations of abuse by clergy. He said the church's effort to prevent child abuse must have "commitment and accountability" from the entire Catholic hierarchy, and he warned bishops they can and should be removed from office if they fail to follow church guidelines on reporting abuse allegations.
Veteran observers of Vatican policy say rarely, if ever, has a senior cleric in Rome used the word "omerta" - a serious accusation in Italian, referring to the unbreakable code of silence observed by Mafia criminal gangs -- to describe some church officials' reluctance to admit full details of abuse scandals.
Scicluna, a priest from Malta assigned to the Vatican department that upholds and enforces church doctrine, has been dubbed a "sex-abuse prosecutor" in some media accounts from Rome this week. His formal title is "justice promoter" in the Vatican's doctrinal department, and he is known as the principal official responsible for dealing with cases of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy.
Many victims' groups have long been critical of the Catholic Church and its bishops for shielding priests accused of sexually abusing children, often by moving pedophile priests from parish to parish instead of turning them over to civil authorities. Those same groups have also been critical of the symposium, dismissing it as a public relations maneuver.
During the four-day symposium at Rome's Gregorian University this week, church authorities disclosed they have been notified of more than 4,000 child sex abuse cases involving clergy over the past decade.
Some information for this report was provided by AP and AFP.