VATICAN CITY (AP) — The Vatican says it will issue a set of guidelines to bishops around the world on how to respond to the sexual abuse of children by priests that will deal with prevention programs, better screening of priests and civil reporting requirements.
Cardinal William Levada, who heads the Vatican office that deals with clerical sex abuse cases, told cardinals from around the world of the guidelines during a daylong meeting Friday that dealt in part with the sex abuse scandal.
A Vatican statement said Levada discussed the need for bishops to collaborate with civil authorities in reporting abuse, the need to protect children and the need for an "attentive selection and formation" of future priests.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.
VATICAN CITY (AP) — The world's cardinals met Friday in a rare Vatican summit to discuss the most pressing issues facing the church, including the sex abuse scandal, religious freedom and the conversion of Anglicans to Catholicism.
Pope Benedict XVI summoned the cardinals for a day of reflection before a ceremony Saturday to create 24 new cardinals, who ultimately will choose his successor.
For the daylong meeting, Benedict chose agenda items that were particularly timely, taking advantage of the presence in Rome of his top advisers to brief them on issues of concern and solicit their input.
The issues include clerical sex abuse, religious liberties, relations with other Christians, and the Vatican's invitation to Anglicans to convert en mass to Catholicism.
The Vatican last year made it easier for Anglicans to convert by allowing them to retain some of their liturgical practices and heritage. The Vatican official in charge of the conversion process, Cardinal William Levada, was to brief his fellow cardinals on the process Friday afternoon.
As the cardinals were meeting, the church in Britain announced that about 50 Church of England priests had expressed interest in joining five of their bishops in converting to Roman Catholicism.
Levada, who heads the Vatican's powerful Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, was also to brief the cardinals on the latest developments in the sex abuse crisis Friday afternoon.
The scandal erupted anew earlier this year with reports of thousands of new victims in Europe and elsewhere coming forward. A small number of victims staged a protest Friday to coincide with the meeting.
Vatican officials stressed they didn't expect any changes to emerge from the limited discussions.
The cardinals spent most of the morning session discussing religious freedom and the persecution of Catholics around the globe. Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican No. 2, recalled the bishops from the Middle East had just wrapped up a two-week meeting on the plight and flight of Christians from their lands.
The situation in China was also raised, given China's planned ordination Saturday of a bishop who doesn't have the pope's approval and reports that Vatican-approved bishops are being forced to attend.
Communist China forced its Roman Catholics to cut ties with the Vatican in 1951, and worship is allowed only in state-backed churches, although millions of Chinese belong to unofficial congregations loyal to the Vatican.
The Vatican warned China on Thursday that efforts at reconciliation would be set back if bishops loyal to the pope were forced to attend. The Vatican said such actions would constitute "grave violations of freedom of religion and freedom of conscience."
Liu Bainian, vice chairman for China's state-backed church, the Catholic Patriotic Association, said Friday the ordination was going ahead but that the presence of other bishops at the ceremony was voluntary.
But AsiaNews, a Vatican-affiliated missionary news agency that closely covers the church in China, named three bishops who had been approached or detained by Chinese government officials to pressure them into participating.
As he arrived Friday for the Vatican meeting, Hong Kong Cardinal Joseph Zen, an outspoken advocate of democracy and religious freedom in China, sharply rebuked China for proceeding with the ordination.
"It is really shameful, such an attempt to make another illegitimate ordination. It's incredible," Zen told The Associated Press. "It's against the whole civilization of today."
Cardinal-designate Donald Wuerl of Washington said the plight of Catholics in the United States and West was raised as well, saying secular norms were encroaching on the abilities of Catholics to practice their faith. It was a reference to Catholic hospitals that might be compelled to offer procedures such as abortion that would violate the conscience of staff.
"There's growing concern that religious freedom seems to be interpreted today about freedom to worship in your house of worship as opposed to free exercise of religious opinion and the freedom of conscience," Wuerl told reporters during a break in the meeting.
The 24 new members bring the College of Cardinals to 203, 121 of whom are under age 80 and thus eligible to vote in a conclave.
With the new cardinals, Benedict will have chosen 40 percent of the college, infusing the elite group with conservative, tradition-minded prelates like himself and nearly ensuring that a future pope won't radically change the direction of the church.
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