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Swiss bishops target child abuse in the church

Swiss bishops presenting the guidelines in Bern

(Keystone)

The Catholic Church in Switzerland is to order its dioceses to put in place safeguards to prevent sexual abuse of children by priests.

The guidelines, recommended by a commission set up to examine the issue, advise priests to avoid situations where there might be a temptation to molest children.

Under the measures unveiled on Thursday, would-be priests will undergo rigorous psychological tests to weed out potential sexual predators.

"The commission will be vigilant ... on the issues of abuse. They will also help bishops in concrete cases," Agnell Richenmann, general secretary of the Swiss Bishop Conference, told swissinfo.

The measure is part of new rules to prevent sexual abuse by the clergy amid a series of high-profile abuse cases that have rocked the Catholic church, especially in the United States.

Amadee Grab, president of the Swiss Bishops Conference, said the measures would not resolve the problem of sexual abuse by priests but added: "I am convinced the measures we have adopted are a good basis. Competence and sensitivity are also needed."

The church will also put more emphasis on making seminarians come to grips with their sexuality before they are allowed to enter the priesthood.

Abuse

Abbot Martin Werlen of the Einsiedeln monastery admitted that there had been cases of child sexual abuse in the church but did not say how many had been recorded.

Adrian von Kaenel, a Zurich lawyer, said the numbers were enormously high. He added that it was time the church lifted the veil on such crimes.

Swiss bishops began drafting the rules two years ago, even before problems of paedophile priests in the United States started to make headlines and damage the church's image.

The guidelines focus on preventing any recurrence of abuse, refusing to sweep cases under the rug, and helping victims.

"We psychologically analysed a number of priests and a lot of them are saying that they are very often under stress. And stress can be a factor that increases the risk of sexual misconduct," Richenmann said.

The Swiss bishops have formed an 11-member task force made up of lawyers, psychologists and priests, which will discuss with bishops ways to prevent abuse of minors by members of the church and how best to deal with cases when they emerge.

Officials have said the task force plan was agreed months ago and was not the result of a case that emerged this year of a 63-year-old priest who resigned after he had molested children.

swissinfo with agencies

Church briefs

The guidelines focus on preventing any recurrence of abuse, refusing to sweep cases under the rug, and helping victims.

Would-be priests must undergo rigorous psychological tests to weed out potential paedophiles.

The new rules come in the wake of high-profile abuse cases that have rocked the Catholic church.

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