- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 16, 2002

Pope John Paul II is calling an extraordinary meeting next week of American cardinals to deal with the burgeoning sex-abuse scandal in the U.S. church.
The pontiff is calling the U.S. cardinals together barely a week after several were in Rome for a meeting of the Papal Foundation, a philanthropic group for papal charities.
Although the Vatican itself has not released an official agenda, Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony said in a statement last night that the meeting would focus on sexual misconduct by Catholic priests.
"I welcome the invitation by the Holy See to travel to Rome next week for discussion on the continuing crisis in the church with respect to clergy sexual misconduct and the abuse of minors," said Cardinal Mahony, who was vindicated last week of accusations he molested a Catholic school student 32 years ago.
"A healthy dialogue with officials in the Vatican is essential to repairing the past damage and to create a more open and honest way of dealing with" any future misconduct," he said.
Bishop Wilton Gregory, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Bishop William Skylstad, vice president, will also attend. A spokesman for the Baltimore Archdiocese said the meeting is scheduled for April 23 and 24.
There are 13 U.S. cardinals, but only the eight responsible for an archdiocese are invited to the talks, according to a senior Vatican official. Besides Cardinal Mahony, they are Cardinal William Keeler of Baltimore, Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston, Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, Cardinal Adam Maida of Detroit, Cardinal Edward Egan of New York, Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua of Philadelphia and Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington. The other five U.S. cardinals include a theologian, a retired bishop and Vatican officials.
Catholic social theorist Michael Novak, who was in Rome last week, said such a gathering of cardinals outside of a conclave to elect a new pope has not happened since the Second Vatican Council.
"It's very unusual this should happen. I cannot remember anything like this in my lifetime," said Mr. Novak, 68.
Clearly, he added, the problem was getting too big for the American bishops to handle.
"The word before was the Vatican was saying to the Americans, 'It's your problem.' Clearly there was a change. This is unusual."
The Rev. Tom Reese, editor of the Jesuit magazine America, said it was "unprecedented for all the cardinals to be called to Rome on such short notice. It shows the pope is very concerned about the scandals."
The U.S. Catholic Church has been rocked in recent months by revelations of priests in several dioceses whose superiors knew they had molested children and teen-agers, almost all males, but were allowed to continue in parish work. The present wave surfaced in January in Boston during the trial of defrocked priest John Geoghan.
Since then, Boston lawyers have been inundated with hundreds of new clients who said they too were assaulted as children. Other dioceses, including Bridgeport, Conn., Philadelphia, St. Louis and Los Angeles, revealed accusations against some of their priests.
One bishop, Anthony O'Connell of Palm Beach, Fla., resigned because of charges of sexual relations with teen-age boys. On April 12, Cardinal Law, whose resignation has been demanded by the city's two papers as well as many prominent lay Catholics, wrote in a two-page letter that he would stay at his job.
The pope has spoken only once about the sexual-misconduct problems, writing obliquely last month that all priests are profoundly affected by "the sins of some of our brothers" who have succumbed to "the most grievous forms" of evil.
Bishop Gregory, who was in Rome last week, said he and other church leaders discussed the sex scandals with the pope Saturday but Cardinal Law's name was not mentioned.
One New York Catholic cleric and scholar, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, expressed amazement that the Boston cardinal went unmentioned in Vatican deliberations.
"What were they discussing, flower arrangements?" he said. "That's why people are so cynical."
The pope has been remiss in disciplining errant clergy, he added, and had been slow to recognize the inability of the U.S. Catholic bishops to clean up the scandals.
"The fact they are bringing the cardinals over may indicate the pope may be fed up with the bishops conference and may be depending on his Curial people, the cardinals," he said. "The pope realizes we need more" leadership than the bishops have provided.

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