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Ratzinger takes responsibility for priestly pedophilia cases

In a new set of norms, the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, headed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, has taken juridical control over cases of sexual abuse of minors by priests, classifying it as one of several "graver offences" against church law.

The move represents a Vatican effort to centralise procedure and oversight on these kinds of sexual abuse cases, said canon law experts in Rome.

The norms, outlined in a letter to the world's bishops, affect how church law treats such cases; the typical punishment for those convicted is dismissal from the clerical state. Civil law deals with the crime separately.

The new norms require local bishops to report probable cases of clerical sexual abuse against minors to the Vatican's doctrinal congregation. The doctrinal congregation then either could allow a local diocesan tribunal to handle the case under the congregation's procedural rules or intervene and take up the case immediately in its own tribunal.

The congregation also said that for priestly sexual abuse cases involving minors, its tribunal is the first court of appeals for the diocesan tribunal.

Meanwhile the new Archbishop Of Cardiff in the UK has called child abuse a "grave sin". Speaking at his installation ceremony, Archbishop Peter Smith stressed it is the duty and commitment of the Catholic Church -- and the wider society -- to protect children and vulnerable adults. Archbishop Smith replaces Archbishop John Aloysius Ward who resigned in October following allegations that he had ignored the pedophile activities of two of his priests who were later jailed for their crimes.