VATICAN CITY - The Catholic Church in Asia has a "pressing need" for rules against child abuse by priests as the issue has been hidden by "a culture of shame," the archbishop of Manila said on Thursday.

"There is a pressing need to formulate national pastoral guidelines for handling such cases," Archbishop Luis Antonio Tagle said on the final day of a summit on the clergy abuse scandals at the Vatican's Gregorian University.

"The relative silence with which the victims and Asian Catholics face the scandal is partly due to the culture of shame that holds dearly one's humanity, honour and dignity," Tagle told bishops and cardinals from around the world.

Tagle said Asian Catholics had initially looked on the scandals as a problem "mainly tied to Western cultures."

"But such a view changed when similar cases surfaced in Asia," he said.

Citing his native Philippines as an example, Tagle said that laws on abuse by the clergy were "not fully developed yet" and the Church was generally following "the unfolding jurisprudence in the United States."

Catholic leaders have been meeting for an unprecedented four-day conference on the issue of child abuse, which has rocked the Catholic Church in recent years after thousands of scandals mainly in Europe and the United States.

One of the main aims of the meeting is to ensure that Catholics in other parts of the world such as Africa, Asia and Latin America learn from the experience of the Church in Western countries in rooting out abuse.

The Vatican has asked that all national bishops' conferences must submit by May a set of guidelines for dealing with child abuse, a task that has been complicated by cultural and legal variations in different countries.

"We should realise that not all the episcopal conferences in Asia are really equipped to study the cases and to draw up the guidelines," Tagle said, giving examples of countries with tiny Catholic minorities such as Cambodia and Laos.

"If we draw up regional guidelines, cultures and the laws differ from country to country. It will be very general guidelines and implementation on the local level will depend on the laws of the land and individual resources."

He said some bishops in Asia "lack knowledge about this whole phenomenon and they're also confused about how to handle this." He said the idea of reporting cases of abuse to civil authorities was also "difficult culturally" in Asia.

The Vatican's top anti-abuse prosecutor Charles Scicluna earlier warned that that the problem of abuse was "very accentuated" in Asia and said some churches could fail to meet the May deadline for submitting their guidelines.

(Source: Agence France Presse)