World's cardinals meet for sex abuse talks
Vatican City - Cardinals from around the world met on Friday for unprecedented talks on paedophile clergy, as activists called on the church to end "symbolic gestures" and release files on the abuses.
Around 150 of the Roman Catholic Church's 203 cardinals prayed for guidance during the meeting in the Vatican, which also debated the issue of religious freedom and conversions of Anglicans to Catholicism.
The closed-door meeting was referred to by the Vatican as "a day of prayer and reflection" on the challenges facing the church.
Pope Benedict XVI invited the cardinals to take part earlier this month.
The issue of abuses by priests and cover-ups by bishops has exposed a raw nerve among many ordinary Catholics dissatisfied with the Vatican's handling of the issue and has put church authorities on the defensive.
"I'm tired of talking about this topic. I've had it up to here," Mexican Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan told reporters on the sidelines of the talks.
"It's a real media storm," he said.
The publication in Ireland last year of a shocking report that documented hundreds of cases of child abuse by priests and systematic cover-up efforts by senior clergy has plunged the church into its worst crisis in many years.
There have since been hundreds more cases across the US and Europe.
"If the pope and cardinals want to make a difference, they would be meeting with law enforcement professionals, not with one another," said Joelle Casteix, 40, an abuse victim who travelled to Rome from the United States to protest.
"Experience tells us the church will probably hear about our campaign today but won't do anything unless they're held up at legal gunpoint," Casteix, a member of the US anti-abuse campaign group Snap, told reporters in Rome.
Lucy Duckworth, 28, who said she was abused by two priests when she was a child, added: "The church says they offer support to victims. I've had no such support. No phone calls from the church. I pay for my own therapy."
The Survivors' Network of those Abused by Priests (Snap) was due to hold a protest in Piazza Navona, a tourist-heavy square in central Rome, in which three abuse victims said they would hold up banners and photos of children.
Church rules tightened
The pope has condemned the crimes with growing intensity, has met with victims and has tightened church rules for dealing with abusers.
Special envoys from the Vatican have also been dispatched to Ireland this month to meet with victims and examine procedures for preventing abuse, with the Vatican saying the mission would help the church "purify itself".
But campaigners say the church has not done nearly enough.
Snap said senior clergy should reach out to victims who have not yet spoken out and "turn over to police and prosecutors the personnel files of proven, admitted and credibly accused child molesting clerics".
It called on cardinals to "stop making symbolic gestures about the abuse".
Only last month, dozens of abuse victims from another US group held a protest in front of the Vatican, calling for the pope to be put on trial.
The abuse talks will be led by US Cardinal William Joseph Levada, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the body in charge of church dogma that was led for more than 20 years by the current pope.
Levada, a conservative who was previously the archbishop of San Francisco, has been heavily criticised by anti-abuse campaigners in the United States.
His archdiocese was successfully sued in 2002 by a whistleblowing priest, who claimed he was put under pressure by church authorities for reporting another priest for making apparent sexual advances on a teenage boy.
Vatican spokesperson Federico Lombardi meanwhile played down expectations of any major outcome from Friday's meeting.
"It's a communication, information, clarification, reflection on some questions but not a very thorough examination," he said ahead of the talks.
Cardinals have a key role in the Roman Catholic Church because they elect new popes. The college of cardinals acts as a consultative body that has been likened to the supervisory board of a major multinational corporation.