Swiss Bishops OK Norms to Deal with Sexual Abuse

Emphasize Help for Victims, and Better Formation

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MORGES, Switzerland, DEC. 5, 2002 ( The Swiss Catholic bishops’ conference approved directives on sexual abuse and announced the creation of a commission to oversee their application.

The directives, which take effect today, were approved during an ordinary assembly earlier this week.

The bishops’ conference explained in a press conference that the document «addresses both the prevention as well as measures that must be taken in a diocese in case of sexual abuse on the part of a person involved in pastoral care.»

The bishops explained that they did not want to restrict the document to pedophilia «which in no way is the only case of sexual abuse that can be found,» a press statement emphasized.

The first chapter of the directives addresses the «notion of responsibility» and defines concepts such as «sexual abuses, moral influence or ‘consent’ of the victim.»

«The bishops reject the trivialization of transgressions; they describe the particular responsibility that the priests and lay pastoral agents must assume in regard to people entrusted to them,» says an explanatory note published by the episcopate.

«Even if the impulse to maintain a sexual relation comes from another person, to accept a contact of this kind would never be legitimate,» the document says.

The responsibility is even more serious when it entails acts committed with «boys, youths, the disabled or other types of dependent persons.»

Chapters 2 and 3 address the prevention of abuse. «The conference condemns a certain masculine tendency — often unconscious — that even today regards women, as well as children and youths, as ‘less worthy of respect,’ which creates a dangerous atmosphere propitious for disorders of all kinds,» the explanatory note states.

Celibacy must be fully lived by priests and religious, «avoiding the silence and secrecy that often surround emotional questions,» the document continues.

«In particular, the bishops emphasize the importance of personal balance, of the balance between work and rest, of sound social integration, of concern for religious and human values, as well as for the spiritual life. Without the latter, the risk of disorder appears,» the episcopate explains.

In a word, the document advocates a careful examination of the emotional makeup of candidates for pastoral ministry.

«The question of the integration of sexuality must be addressed before ordination or admission to ministry in the Church,» the text states. «In addition, continuous formation is indispensable, as well as spiritual support and an eventual follow-up by an expert in case of personal crisis.»

The fourth chapter describes the tasks of the «commission of experts for sexual abuses,» which at present has 11 members (Church representatives, as well as experts in different, specific fields). This task force must offer counsel, from the psychological, juridical and ecclesial point of view, to the episcopal conference, bishops and institutions that require it.

The fifth chapter is concerned with «procedures in the dioceses,» in particular, the procedure that must be followed in a case of sexual abuse.

«On one hand, the ecclesial procedure must impede, in the first place, any relapse,» the episcopate’s statement clarifies. «On the other hand, the bishops must watch over the situation so that the victims are recognized and helped, according to the cases, from the pastoral, medical, psychotherapeutic, as well as financial point of view.»

The bishops also encourage collaboration and the distribution of useful information, as well as collaboration with state authorities and courts.

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