Swiss prelate suggests Vatican sex abuse register

Geneva, Switzerland - A leading Swiss priest on Sunday called on the Vatican to set up an international register of Roman Catholic clergy who have been reported for sex abuse.

Martin Werlen, a member of the Swiss Bishops Conference, said he fears that the Catholic hierarchy has failed to take the impact of the latest child sex abuse scandals in Ireland and elsewhere seriously enough.

Werlen told the Sonntagsblick newspaper that an official Swiss church body that deals with sex abuse has discussed the idea of "a central office in Rome, which would register church people who have been reported."

Such a list, he said, could be consulted by bishops "anywhere in the world" when they make appointments.

"When, for example, a European priest applies in a US diocese, then the bishop can check with Rome if he is charged with something," Werlen added. "Such an office would ensure more transparency worldwide."

Werlen is the abbot of Einsiedeln monastery in the German-speaking east of Switzerland, where five monks have been involved in sexual harassment or abuse since the 1970s.

Werlen, whose own appointment as abbot in 2001 had been endorsed by then pope John Paul II, said he has dealt with three of those cases.

Pope Benedict XVI on Saturday expressed "shame and remorse" for episodes of child sex abuse in Ireland, and said priests and religious workers who are guilty of child abuse must answer for their crimes before tribunals.

Since the Irish cases emerged, abuse scandals have come to light in the pope's native Germany, as well as in the Netherlands and in Switzerland where the church said on Saturday it was examining at least nine "serious" cases of suspected sexual abuse or harassment in recent years.

Werlan criticized the speed of the Vatican's reaction, drawing a parallel with last year's uproar over the lifting of the excommunication of breakaway traditionalist bishops including Holocaust denier Richard Williamson.

"I fear that the church hierarchy in Rome is not taking the situation seriously enough... Our credibility is at stake," he told Sonntagsblick.