- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 24, 2002

ROME Pope John Paul II told American cardinals yesterday that sex abuse of children is "rightly considered a crime" by society and that there is no place for pedophiles in religious life.
But the pope stopped short of saying specifically whether abusers automatically will be defrocked.
Addressing an extraordinary meeting of U.S. cardinals and senior Vatican officials, the pope offered an apology to Catholics in the United States, where 55 priests have been removed from their parishes since January. One former priest, John G. Geoghan, is accused of molesting more than 130 children in Boston.
"To the victims and their families, wherever they may be, I express my profound sense of solidarity and concern," the pope said.
Twelve cardinals and two bishops from the United States are meeting with Vatican officials in Rome to find ways to stem the scandal that has shaken the confidence of the faithful, led to the resignation of one bishop and cost the church millions of dollars in legal settlements.
The pope's words yesterday were the strongest since accusations of sex abuse by priests began pouring out in January.
"People need to know that there is no place in the priesthood and religious life for those who would harm the young," he said.
"The abuse which has caused this crisis is by every standard wrong and rightly considered a crime by society. It is also an appalling sin in the eyes of God."
The 81-year-old pontiff said he hoped the American crisis would lead to a "purification of the entire Catholic community" and a "holier priesthood."
The pope said the U.S. cardinals who arrived in Rome on Monday "are now working to establish more reliable criteria to ensure that such mistakes are not repeated."
The cardinals are debating whether to adopt what the American media has dubbed a "one strike and you're out" policy for priests found guilty of abusing children.
Some Vatican watchers said the pope appeared equivocal on whether to adopt such a policy.
He said that "while recognizing how indispensable these criteria are, we cannot forget the power of Christian conversion, that radical decision to turn away from sin and back to God, which reaches to the depths of a person's soul and can work extraordinary change."
But Cardinal Roger Mahoney of Los Angeles said there is no doubt the pope favors zero tolerance.
"You can convert hearts and offer reconciliation, but you can't reassign them," he said. The pope "is being as clear as he can be."
"There is no place for abusers in the priesthood," he said.
Vatican sources said the cardinals are likely to adopt guidelines today, to be presented to the American bishops' conference in June, in which priests who abuse young children automatically will be removed.
"The cardinals will come up with positions that they know Rome will support if they enforce them," one source said.
In the past, American bishops adopted similar guidelines, but they were not applied in all dioceses, in part because they did not have the Vatican's approval, the source said.
The guidelines might be less strict with priests who have sex with teen-agers, the source said.
"The line may be drawn when young people are old enough to know what they're doing, if they are of an age where in some countries they can get married. But there's not really much room for maneuver."
The American Church is also expected to adopt much more stringent rules for entry to seminaries, including the screening of homosexuals.
"They'll try and weed out people who look as if they are going to have problems," the source said. "A person could have a homosexual orientation but could live in a way that is compatible with celibacy."
The pope made no direct comment on moves by some cardinals behind the scenes at the conference to force the resignation of Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston, who is accused of mishandling sex-abuse cases by reassigning accused offenders.
The pope said only that "bishops and superiors are concerned above all else with the spiritual good of souls."
Cardinal Francis George of Chicago told a press conference that whether Cardinal Law should resign was not raised during yesterday's closed-door session.
But Cardinal George said Cardinal Law told the group that "if he hadn't made some terrible mistakes, we probably would not be here" and apologized. After a secret meeting with the pope last week, Cardinal Law said he would not step down.
Cardinal George also said that there was no prospect of the meeting challenging priestly celibacy, which many liberal U.S. Catholics see as contributing to pedophilia in the clergy. The cardinals had discussed celibacy, he said, "but so as to reinforce it, not to put it in question."
Asked whether the conference is likely to adopt guidelines amounting to one strike and you're out, Cardinal George said, "There is not a total consensus between the U.S. hierarchy here this week."
Outside the United States, sex scandals in recent years have cropped up in other countries, including Austria, Ireland, France, Australia and the pope's native Poland.

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