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Church says Vatican not above law on pedophile priests

Amidst suggestions that new procedures for dealing with clergy sexual abuse allegations could requre senior church officials to practise civil disobedience, a spokesman for the Australian Catholic Church said the instruction should not be interpreted as a call to ignore the law of the land.

The unnamed spokesman, quoted on ABC Radio's PM program, said the new measures apply to the rare case where a priest refuses to step down and needs to be disciplined internally.

The Vatican has recently issued new rules for local Church authorities to deal with pedophile priests, saying they should stand trial in closed ecclesiastical courts. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, 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 Congregation."

Meanwhile Canberra-Goulburn auxiliary Bishop Pat Power, also speaking on PM, stressed the rights of the alleged victims and the importance of local knowledge.

"I think that what needs to be done is justice in terms of the victims," he said. "I do sometimes wonder whether people removed from the situation do fully understand all the implications of it. There certainly needs to be more dialogue."

In the UK, the Catholic Media Office for England and Wales issued a statement of clarification to emphasise that the Vatican is not seeking to replace proper legal processes.

"There has been some misunderstanding concerning a Vatican clarification regarding Catholic clergy who have abused children," the statement said. "This clarification in no way circumvents or replaces normal legal procedures. Child abuse is a crime."

The Office said the Church's policies state that any allegations of abuse must be referred to the proper statutory authorities (police/social services).

Vatican releases new guidelines on child abuse cases (audio from ABC Radio 'PM', 9/1/02)