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Vatican issues new rules on pedophile priests

The Vatican has issued new rules for local Church authorities to deal with pedophile priests, saying they should stand trial in closed ecclesiastical courts.

Pope John Paul and the Vatican issued two documents on the problem in 2001, but they were not presented at press conferences or made public as is usually the case for such documents.

Instead, they were published in Latin without any fanfare in the latest yearly volume of "Acta Apostolicae Sedis," (Acts of the Apostolic See), the journal of record of the Holy See.

In his document, known in Latin as a "Motu Proprio" and one of the highest forms of papal directives, the Pope authorised the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to issue guidelines on how to deal with the problem.

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, head of the Congregation, which deals with matters of faith and morals, sent a letter to all Roman Catholic bishops and heads of religious orders outlining the Vatican's concerns.

"With this letter, we hope that not only will these serious crimes be avoided, but, above all, that the holiness of the clergy and the faithful be protected by the necessary sanctions and by the pastoral care offered by the bishops and others responsible," the letter said.

Ratzinger's letter said that if a local bishop or head of a religious order became aware of "even a hint" of a case of pedophilia "he must open an investigation and inform the (Rome) Congregation."

A local Church tribunal, made up of priests, should hear the case, which could be referred to the Vatican, but the procedures would be covered by church secrecy.

The letter made no mention of whether a bishop should inform civil authorities if a Church court found a priest guilty.