Vatican investigator urges bishops to report all suspected child abuse

Clergy abuse survivors demonstrate near Vatican

By Alvise Armellini

ROME (Reuters) - The head of the Vatican office that disciplines predator priests on Tuesday called on bishops across the world to report all suspect child abuse cases to him in order "to clean up this situation".

The Roman Catholic Church has for decades been shaken by scandals across the world involving paedophile priests and the cover-up of their crimes, damaging its credibility and costing hundreds of millions of dollars in settlements.

"I want all cases brought to light, so that the Church can be transparent," said Father John Joseph Kennedy, an Irish cleric and head of the disciplinary section of the Vatican's doctrinal office (DDF).

"I worry for the countries and the bishops who are not sending us the cases. It would be better to have a truck arrive in front of (our office) with all the cases, we get to work and clean up this situation," he told reporters.

He did not say which nations or dioceses he suspected were failing to report.

Kennedy, who rarely speaks to the press or appears in public, belongs to a secretive institution criticised for its lack of transparency. He acknowledged the problem and hinted at changes "in the not distant future".

Victims of abusive priests, for example, routinely complain that they are not informed about the investigations.

Kennedy, who works under Cardinal Victor Manuel Fernandez, head of the DDF and one of Pope Francis' closest aides, said about 77% of cases that are reported to his office involved child abuse.

He was addressing journalists on the sidelines of a conference in Rome on child sex abuse in Italy, a country where bishops have been slower than elsewhere in Europe to respond to scandals.

Both Francis and his predecessor, Benedict XVI, have pledged "zero tolerance" against child abuse, but critics say reforms introduced so far have not been enough to root out abusive clergy and help their victims.

(Reporting by Alvise Armellini; Editing by Nick Macfie)