THE Pope last night called his cardinals to Rome for a November 19 summit to discuss the Catholic Church’s response to cases of sexual abuse by clergy.
The unprecedented talks, which come on the eve of a meeting that will formally recognise 24 new cardinals, will also discuss the procedure for accepting Anglican converts into the Catholic Church, the Vatican said in a statement last night.
During an at times stormy two-day official visit to Spain at the weekend, Benedict XVI had disappointed campaigners against sex abuse within the church after he failed to voice sympathy with their cause.
Spain has not been rocked by pedophile priest scandals in the same way as Ireland, Germany or the US. There have been only a dozen prosecutions of priests during the past 25 years. However, a 1994 study found high levels of clerical abuse during the Franco dictatorship, between 1939 and 1975, when the church was closely aligned to the regime.
Nine per cent of those who were abused claimed clergy were the perpetrators, according to the study of 2000 people aged 18 to 60. The Spanish Bishop’s Conference has called for tough measures against pedophile priests but said only a small number of cases had come to light.
Carlos Sanchez Matto, of the Church Without Abuse group, said: “Unfortunately, it doesn’t surprise me the Pope has not confronted this issue.”
The Pope also said Spain was undergoing “strong and aggressive secularism such as was seen in the 1930s”. The remark was a reference to the sacking of churches and the murder of priests during an anticlerical purge that swept Spain until the country descended into civil war in 1936-39.
The pontiff made his remarks as he consecrated La Sagrada Familia, Antoni Gaudi’s 128-year-old unfinished temple in Barcelona. He has also taken part in a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, where the apostle James is said to be buried.
Spain’s socialist government, which has clashed with the Vatican over social reforms including the legalisation of gay marriage, speedier divorces and abortion on demand, declined to respond to the Pope’s comments.
Left-wingers, however, described the remarks as misguided given that the Spanish government spends E6 billion ($8.2bn) each year on financial support for the Catholic Church and recently shelved a law that would have given equal rights to other religions. “His comments are an insult and an affront to Spanish democracy,” said Juanma Romero, of the United Left Party.