Vatican acknowledges some countries still lack guidelines on preventing abuse

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Vatican officials acknowledged on Friday that bishops in about 10 countries still have no guidelines for dealing with sexual abuse cases, as it unveiled a new “task force” to help them and others.

The group of experts in preventing sexual abuse will assist bishops conferences in those countries put them into place and help revise guidelines in countries where they exist so they adhere to recent changes in Church law.

At a news conference presenting the task force, the officials said countries still lacking no guidelines are in that situation because of wars, political upheaval or lack of resources resulting from extreme poverty.

The officials, Father Federico Lombardi and Bishop Juan Ignacio Arrieta, declined to name the countries.

“Bishops in countries that are at war sometimes cannot even meet with each other because it is too dangerous,” Arrieta said, adding that no developed country was still without guidelines.

Former Pope Benedict first mandated the guidelines in 2011 and the creation of the task force was decided a year ago at a Vatican summit of heads of bishops conferences from around the world called by Pope Francis.

The guidelines aim to create procedures for the reporting of abuse, training for local staff in prevention strategies and reaching out to victims and listening to them.

The task force will be overseen by the Vatican’s deputy secretary of state, Archbishop Edgar Pena Parra, and the four main organizers of the 2019 abuse summit.

They are Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta and Jesuit priest Hans Zollner, both experts in child abuse prevention, as well as Cardinals Blase Cupich of Chicago and Oswald Gracias of India.

The Catholic Church around the world is still struggling to come to grips with the worldwide crisis, which devastated its credibility and dented its coffers.

About two dozen dioceses in the United States alone have filed for bankruptcy because of mounting lawsuits.

A number of U.S. states have also changed statutes of limitations law enabling victims to file for damages for abuse that occurred decades ago, moves that will likely hit the Church further financially.

Reporting By Philip Pullella