Swiss confront scandals

AFP/February 9, 2008

Geneva - Switzerland's Catholic Church is embroiled in a series of sex scandals, with some priests denouncing media intrusion while others say past sins and abuse must be confronted.

One 45-year-old priest committed suicide last Sunday after what his family denounced as a "media hunt," when it was revealed he had been accused in 2001 of indecent behaviour with a minor back in the 1980s, before he had been ordained.

Some 600 people attended his funeral in the western city of Neuchatel, and heard a message from the local bishop Bernard Genoud denouncing the "intolerable" media pressure on the dead man.

"Rumours can kill," Genoud subsequently told a television programme, adding that the dead man had admitted his guilt at the time, and had been cleared for work in the priesthood by psychiatric authorities.

The case came hot on the heels of another scandal involving a 67-year-old monk now living in Switzerland and accused of abusing a 12-year old boy in France in the early 1990s.

Prosecutors in the French city of Grenoble opened a case against him last month, and it has transpired that he was sent to France by his superiors in the church after being accused of child sex abuse in Switzerland as far back as the 1960s.

The church never informed the authorities of this when he was sent to France.

Liberal Catholic weekly Golias broke the scandal last November, claiming that the church had paid 90,000 Swiss francs (82,000 dollars, 55,000 euros) to a man who claimed he had been abused by the monk.

The case drew much condemnation including from within the Church itself.

"It pains me to use the word 'complicity' when talking about the Church I love, but this is true," said Father Nicolas Betticher, spokesperson for the Bishop of Lausanne, Geneva and Fribourg.

"It is clear that procedures were not properly followed at the time," he told Swiss Sunday newspaper Le Matin Dimanche. "If they had been, he would not have been able to re-offend. We did wrong by sending this priest to France," Betticher said.

Since the case came to light, the Church has reported two further priests accused of sexual abuse in Fribourg and Geneva, legal sources told AFP without giving any further details.

The Church said it has now put in place a telephone hotline for people wishing to report cases of abuse, and set up a body called "SOS Prevention" to allow victims of abuse to come forward.

The Catholic Church, which enjoins celibacy for its clergy, has been buffeted by a wave of sex scandals and revelations of abuse across the world, from Ireland to the United States.

Last year, the Catholic Church in San Diego, California, said it would pay 198 million dollars to more than 100 people who were sexually abused by members of the clergy.

The settlement followed a record payout by the Los Angeles diocese of 660 million dollars to more than 500 victims of abuse by clergy in July, the biggest in US history.

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