DENMARK: Child rights group wants review of church secrecy laws

[COPENHAGEN, 18 March 2010] - A Danish children's rights group has called for a review of the country's church secrecy rules to ensure that alleged cases of child abuse are investigated.

Bishops in Denmark's small Catholic Church, which numbers some 35,000 people, as well as the Lutheran Church, have both cited professional secrecy rules as a reason for not reporting allegations heard by priests when offering counselling.

But Lisbeth Zornig Andersen, head of the National Council for Children, a government-funded agency, told broadcaster DR it was necessary to review such secrecy clauses. Zornig Andersen noted that the medical profession has exceptions in place in cases of suspected child abuse.

Her call follows recent criticisms of Bishop Czeslaw Kozon of the Danish Catholic Church, who has argued that the church is not obliged to look into allegations of abuse.

The debate in Denmark comes amid a spate of child abuse cases within the Catholic Church in a number of European countries.

According to the daily Kristeligt Dagblad, a handful of cases of suspected abuse involving priests in Denmark have not yet been investigated because they allegedly took place in the 1980s or earlier.

Kozon said such cases were not reported to the authorities because of opposition by the victims, or because the suspect culprit had since died or was no longer playing an active role within the church.

Bishop Kresten Drejergaard of the Evangelical Lutheran Church said there were instances where it was better to keep silent, particularly if the victim had asked for the abuse to be kept under wraps.

But legal experts and others criticised such a stance.

"A big institution like the Catholic Church is responsible for investigating and preventing abuse," Professor Kirsten Ketscher of the Copenhagen University's law faculty said.

Psychologist Per Schultz Jorgensen, meanwhile, noted that a probe was a way to offer support and redress to a victim.

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