- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 17, 2002

Two local cardinals, who are among the 13 prelates summoned to Rome for an emergency meeting on the sex-abuse crisis involving U.S. Catholic clergy, said yesterday they support a binding national policy to better deal with errant priests.
Although some individual dioceses have sexual-abuse policies in place, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), which consists of the leaders of America's 62 million Catholics, has no national policy.
As a result, bishops' treatment of priests who preyed sexually on children and teen-age boys has ranged from a no-tolerance stance to simply moving the cleric to a different parish.
Furthermore, removal from the priesthood involves a lengthy laicization process that must involve Rome. Any changes in that policy suggested during the Rome meetings, set for April 23-24, would be acted on during the semiannual USCCB summit in June.
Cardinals Theodore McCarrick of Washington and William Keeler of Baltimore told reporters they were looking forward to the meeting as an opportunity to improve handling of sexual misconduct cases, which Cardinal McCarrick said have made priests fearful of any contact with children.
"These terrible problems have affected only less than 2 percent of our priests," he said of the Catholic Church's 48,000 clergy.
"But it has become so blown up that's as it probably could be because of that, the priests are concerned about this," he added. "We have to put it into context. Even one little child being hurt by this way it is too much. It drives you crazy that this can happen."
Cardinal McCarrick took a similar line about priestly conduct in "The Passion of the Church," a six-page pastoral letter released yesterday.
Citing the figure of 1.6 percent of priests having been accused of sexual misconduct, he asked, "I wonder what profession or group has a lower rate than that?"
His letter also rejected criticisms of priestly celibacy, saying, "Knowing that the problems of improper conduct with minors are found more often in married men, we reject the insinuations of our critics."
He added, "Just as the blood of the martyrs was the seed of the Church in the centuries of the past, so may it be that this crisis in the priesthood of our world today may bring to the service of the Church men of such zeal and holiness that this may be called its Golden Age."
Cardinal Keeler said the Rome meeting will be a "positive step forward" in dealing with "a very vexing challenge for Catholics in the United States."
Church officials have been vague as to whether the pope himself would attend the meetings, as he is in poor health.
The talks will be led by three key non-American church leaders: Cardinals Dario Castrillon Hoyos, Joseph Ratzinger and Giovanni Battista Re. The three men, respectively, head the Vatican departments, called congregations, that are responsible for the clergy, doctrine and bishops.
Cardinal Keeler, who will send tape-recorded messages to the 162 parishes in his archdiocese to be played this Sunday, returns April 25. A spokesman said the news media are already lining up for interviews.
"People are already asking for his arrival times and he hasn't even booked his ticket yet," communications assistant Matt Lane said.
Meanwhile yesterday, Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston, whose handling of sexual-misconduct cases has resulted in many lay Catholics demanding his resignation, said the pope and the Vatican had given him a vote of confidence in an unannounced meeting last week.
"As a result of my stay in Rome, I return home encouraged in my efforts to provide the strongest possible leadership in ensuring, as far as humanly possible, that no child is ever abused again by a priest of this archdiocese," he said in a statement.
In his news conference, Cardinal McCarrick brushed aside speculation about Cardinal Law, saying, "I don't see His Eminence resigning."
This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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