The Vatican has launched a new transparency strategy to deal with the sex abuse crisis, planning to post a guide for lay people on the Web to explain how it deals with abuse accusations against priests, The Associated Press has learned.
It also announced that Pope Benedict XVI is willing to meet with more abuse victims as part of efforts to take part in the healing process.
The "lay guide," obtained Friday by The Associated Press, outlines the canonical procedures that bishops follow when they receive accusations of abuse.
The guide doesn't contain any information that isn't available to the public through a trip to a specialized religious library or a Vatican bookstore. But it puts various sources of canonical procedures together in a concise, easy-to-read fashion, without cumbersome canon law citations and Latin phrases. And it's going up on the Web.
The Vatican spokesman, Rev. Federico Lombardi, said transparency is an "urgent requirement" of the church.
He defended Benedict as a pastor worthy of respect and support in the face of the "unfounded" allegations.
But in a change of tone, Lombardi said in comments to Vatican Radio that many victims are looking not for financial compensation but for moral help, countering insinuations by some in the church that the accusations were part of attempts to win large settlements.
"For many people the road to profound healing is only just beginning, and for others it has yet to start," said Lombardi. "In the context of this concern for victims, the pope has written of his readiness to hold new meetings with them, thus sharing in the journey of the entire ecclesiastical community."
Benedict already has met with abuse victims during trips to the United States and Australia in 2008, and with Canadians at the Vatican the following year.
But the pope himself has come under fire for the handling of cases that date to his tenure as archbishop of Munich and as a Vatican cardinal in charge of the office dealing with abuse cases. And the Vatican's offer of new meetings was dismissed by one group of abuse victims as a meaningless symbol.
"Any meeting the pope may have with victims helps him look good while doing nothing noteworthy," said Barbara Dorris, the outreach director of U.S.-based victim lobby SNAP.
"Kids need and deserve immediate protection and dramatic reform, not public relations ploys and photo ops. They need substance, not symbols," she said.
Sex abuse allegations have swept across Europe in recent weeks, including in Benedict's native Germany.
The Vatican has rejected accusations that the church, including the pope, engaged in a coverup, and has blamed the media for what it calls a smear campaign against the pontiff and his advisers.
Lombardi renewed some of that rhetoric on Friday, saying the media have failed to portray the pervasiveness of child sex abuse in modern society and the way the church's experience can be useful to society at large.
He praised the pope's patience in facing up to "the steady trickle of partial and alleged 'revelations' that seek to damage his own credibility and that of other people or institutions in the church."
But Lombardi also said that transparency and rigor are urgently needed to show that the church is run in a wise and just manner.