Vatican City: The Vatican has told Roman Catholic bishops around the world that they will have to take more responsibility to prevent sexual abuse of children by priests.
The Vatican also said in a statement issued after a day-long meeting of cardinals on Friday that it was preparing new guidelines for bishops on how to deal with the sexual abuse, including cooperation with local authorities.
Roman Catholic cardinals from around the world held a rare gathering to discuss religious freedom, sexual abuse of children by priests and accepting converts from the Anglican church.
Cardinal William Levada, the American head of the doctrinal office headed by Pope Benedict before his election, spoke of "greater responsibility of bishops for the protection of faithful entrusted to them”, the statement said.
The closed-door meeting took place on the eve of a ceremony known as a consistory at which the pope will create 24 new cardinals, including 20 who are under the age of 80 and thus eligible to enter a secret conclave to elect his successor.
The church has been struggling to deal with the scandal in several countries of sexual abuse of children and young people by priests.
Levada spoke to the participants about "cooperation with civilian authorities, the need for an effective protection of children and young people and a careful selection of future priests”.
His office is preparing a new set of guidelines for bishops on sexual abuse in order to offer "a coordinated and effective program" of response and prevention.
Victims want more action
Victims of sexual abuse protested in Rome to coincide with the meeting. They say the Vatican has not done enough to protect children from future abuse.
"We want the bishops to turn over to police and prosecutors the personnel files of proven, admitted and credibly accused child-molesting clerics," said Barbara Blaine, a leader of the US-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP).
"The only way that we can make sure that the children that we all know and the children who attend mass every day are safe is if the church stops fighting and starts cooperating like every other organisation would and should," SNAP member and abuse victim Lucy Duckworth told a news conference.
English Cardinal Cormac Murphy O`Connor disagreed, saying the church was "doing everything it can" to make sure that children are safe and put the "terrible shame" behind it.
"The pope has expressed his abhorrence at the terrible crime and I am quite sure the church will, in every way, show that what has happened in the past will not happen in the future," he told reporters at the Vatican.
The participants also discussed religious freedom, a debate which unfolded against the backdrop of a fresh Vatican conflict with China`s communist government over the ordination of a bishop without papal permission.
The topic of religious liberty came to the fore on Thursday when the Vatican warned China not to force bishops loyal to the pope to attend the ordination of a bishop who is a member of the state-backed church that does not recognise the pontiff.
Prelates coming out of the morning session expressed concern that the new stand-off with Beijing would lead to a worsening of relations after a period of relative improvement.
Catholics in China are divided between one church that recognises the pope and his authority to name bishops and a state-backed "patriotic association" which names its own bishops.