ROME Roman Catholic Church leaders unveiled an Internet teaching project on Thursday to help clergy around the world root out pedophiles in their ranks and protect children from potential abusers.
Ending a four-day conference on child abuse in Rome, Father Francois-Xavier Dumortier said the 1.2 million euro ($1.60 million) project would provide multilingual advice and access to research on pedophilia and how to respond to the problem.
"It will help to develop a culture of listening...a different face to the culture of silence," said Dumortier, who is rector at the Pontifical Gregorian University where the conference was held.
An association for victims of abuse, while not commenting directly on the Internet project, has dismissed the conference as "window dressing" and said the Vatican should publish its documentation on abuse and hand it over to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague.
Victims' groups for years have accused some bishops in the Church of preferring silence and cover-up to coming clean on the scandal, which has darkened the image of the Church around the world.
But on Wednesday the Vatican's top official for dealing with sexual abuse of minors, Monsignor Charles Scicluna, said hiding behind a culture of "omerta" - the Italian word for the Mafia's code of silence - would be deadly for the Church.
The symposium brought together some 200 people including bishops, leaders of religious orders, victims of abuse and psychologists, and some participants saw it as a turning point in the Church's approach to the crisis.
"The Church now has a baseline about where we are starting from," Brendan Geary from the Marist Brothers religious order said.
"We start by listening to victims and hearing their experience. We make sure the Church has the highest standards for protecting children."
The Internet-based "Centre for Child Protection" will work with medical institutions and universities to develop what the Church hopes will be a constant response to the problems of sexual abuse.
It will be posted in German, English, French, Spanish and Italian and help bishops and other church workers put into place Vatican guidelines to protect children.
The message from Vatican officials who have addressed the symposium is that local Church officials must cooperate with civil authorities according to local law in cases of suspected pedophilia.
The scandals have led to costly legal action, are blamed for an exodus of believers in some European nations, including Pope Benedict's native Germany, and have damaged the Church's moral standing in hitherto staunchly Catholic states.
($1 = 0.7517 euros)
(Editing by Michael Roddy)