- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 21, 2002

VATICAN CITY Pope John Paul II, in a strong message delivered just before U.S. cardinals meet on a sex-abuse scandal, yesterday said priests must live celibate lives and avoid scandalous behavior. Bishops, he said, must investigate such behavior and act to end it.
In comments to Nigerian bishops, the pope didn't directly refer to the scandal in the American church. But the timing appeared to make it a signal of his position going into the meeting and a firm policy statement that he doesn't tolerate the type of behavior shown by some American clergy.
The scandals, in which several clergy are accused of abusing children and teen-agers, cost the American church millions of dollars in settlements and raised questions about bishops' mishandling of the investigations.
The pope summoned American cardinals to a meeting Tuesday and Wednesday to discuss the matter an extraordinary measure that underscored the urgency that the Vatican appears to believe is necessary.
In his comments to the Nigerians, the pope didn't refer to sex offenders or pedophilia, focusing on the broader issue of the need for priests to live a life of poverty and celibacy. The Vatican has spoken out about problems in the African church of priests breaking their vow of celibacy and having relations with women.
"The value of celibacy as a complete gift of self to the Lord and His church must be carefully safeguarded," John Paul told the Nigerians. "Behavior which might give scandal must be carefully avoided, and you yourselves must diligently investigate accusations of any such behavior, taking firm steps to correct it where it is found to exist."
John Paul's comments were his most extensive remarks about celibacy since the revelations of sex abuse began pouring out in the United States. He broke his long silence in a pre-Easter letter to priests last month, denouncing the scandal some caused.
Cardinal Bernard Law, head of the Boston archdiocese, has faced growing criticism since acknowledging he transferred a priest to another parish despite knowing of sexual misconduct charges against the man. That defrocked priest later was sentenced to prison.
Cardinal Law made a clandestine trip to Rome last week and later announced that he raised the possibility of resigning with the pope. In a statement released Tuesday, after his return, he said: "The fact that my resignation has been proposed as necessary was part of my presentation."
But Cardinal Law said his talks at the Vatican encouraged him to stay on.
In the meetings this week, the cardinals will look to the Vatican for guidance and backing on a range of issues, foremost on whether the church should ever consider reassigning sex offenders and on whether it should create a uniform American policy for reporting accusations of abuse to police.
All 13 U.S. cardinals were invited to the meeting, but 81-year-old Cardinal James Hickey, the retired archbishop of Washington, was too frail to make the trip.
John Paul will address the cardinals at the start of the meeting and spend as much time with them as his schedule allows, Vatican officials said. On Wednesday, for example, he will hold his regular general audience.

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