VATICAN CITY // Scores of Catholic leaders from around the world gathered for an unprecedented anti-abuse summit hosted by the Vatican intended to find ways to root out paedophilia.
Bishops from 100 countries and the leaders of 33 religious orders will take part in the four-day meeting, as well as the Vatican's anti-paedophilia prosecutor, Charles Scicluna, and an abuse victim, Ireland's Marie Collins.
Pope Benedict XVI is expected to issue a special blessing for the conference held at the Vatican's Gregorian University, which will also launch a Centre for Child Protection in Germany to fight sex abuse by the clergy in the church worldwide.
The symposium entitled "Towards Healing and Renewal" will also include a church service today in which representatives of seven religious orders which had paedophile clergy in their midst will plead for forgiveness.
Abuse victims' groups have already criticised the conference.
"You can have all the symposiums you want but why don't you open a constructive debate. The church is too closed in on itself," said Roberto Mirabile, the head of the Italian victim support group La Caramella Buona.
Father Hans Zollner, a Jesuit priest and psychotherapist who heads up the new Centre for Child Protection, said on Vatican Radioyesterday before the start of the conference: "The best measure is to listen to the suffering."