VATICAN CITY - Swiss bishops urge victims of clerical abuse to file criminal complaints and are considering creating a national registry for pedophile priests. Danish bishops launch an investigation into decades-old claims. Austria's senior bishop celebrates a Holy Week Mass of repentance.
A week after Pope Benedict XVI excoriated Irish bishops for gross errors of judgment in handling cases of priests who sexually abuse children, European bishops are admitting to mistakes, reaching out to victims and promising to act quickly when they learn about abuse cases.
Their mea culpas and pledges to be more transparent and cooperative in the future come amid mounting public outrage over the scope of the abuse and what victims say has been a pattern of coverup by bishops and the Vatican itself to keep the cases quiet.
"It's about improving things," Swiss Bishops Conference spokesman Walter Mueller said Wednesday, as Swiss bishops admitted in a statement that they had underestimated the problem and are now telling victims to consider filing criminal complaints.
In Austria, Cardinal Christophe Schoenborn was to celebrate a Holy Week Mass on Wednesday evening for abuse victims in what is being billed as a "sign of repentance" just days before Easter.
Schoenborn was named Vienna archbishop in 1995, tasked to clean up the mess in the diocese after Cardinal Hans Hermann Groer was forced to resign as archbishop over allegations he molested youths at a monastery in the 1970s.
Several years later, the church was again rocked by the discovery of up to 40,000 lurid images at a seminary in St. Poelten, 50 miles (80 kilometers) west of Vienna, including child porn and photos of young candidates for the priesthood fondling each other and their older religious instructors.
Amid renewed outrage over Europe's sexual abuse scandals, Schoenborn announced over the weekend the creation of an independent, clergy-free commission headed by a woman to suggest ways to strengthen church guidelines for dealing with sexual abuse.
Switzerland, home of the Swiss Guard who protect the pope at the Vatican, is considering the radical idea of creating a central registry of pedophile priests to prevent them from coming into contact with children.
Swiss President Doris Leuthard has come out in favor of the proposal; the president of the Swiss Bishops' Conference, Norbert Brunner, has said he doesn't see the point. Swiss bishops are split.
And both Switzerland and Germany are considering mandatory, or automatic reporting requirements for bishops. In Switzerland, priests aren't required by national law to inform police of possible sexual abuse cases. This is only required of civil servants such as teachers, professors, and policemen.
In February, German bishops announced they would revise their 2002 guidelines, which say that officials are advised to contact law enforcement on their own if there are "proven cases" of abuse by priests.
The Bavarian bishops are lobbying for an automatic relay of all suspected abuse cases to public prosecutors to be included in the new guidelines, which are expected by summer. Not all German bishops agree.
Elsewhere, the Catholic Church in Denmark announced it would launch an investigation next week into claims of clerical abuse dating back several decades. The move comes after the church came under pressure from media and human rights groups to revisit allegations of sexual abuse that had not been reported to police.
And Italy's bishops vowed this week to cooperate with civil authorities.