- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 24, 2002

American Catholics yesterday welcomed Pope John Paul II's call for a "purification of the entire Catholic community" in the wake of the church's sex scandals but said the pontiff's candid comments must be followed by actions to restore trust.
"The pope's words were his strongest yet on the subject," said David Clohessy, national director of the Survivor Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP). "But they are words only."
Mr. Clohessy, of St. Louis, who was abused as a boy, said he is worried that when the headlines die down, the momentum for reform and making amends with victims might be sidelined.
"Our hearts are still overwhelmed with the pain that could have been avoided," Mr. Clohessy said. "The sense of vindication will come over time. The real sense of closure will come only when we know the kids are safe."
Cece Price, a member of St. Aloysius Catholic Church in Leonardtown, Md., said she hopes the pope makes clear to U.S. cardinals called to Rome for yesterday's summit on the sexual-abuse problem that protecting guilty priests by relocating them is intolerable.
"I would like to see an encompassing approach so that every diocese has a uniform policy. I don't think it should be left up to each diocese, as it is now," she said.
The pope, who called the meeting last week, addressed 24 top church leaders, including the 13 U.S. cardinals.
The pope did not suggest any particular measures to screen priests or police those accused of sexual wrongdoing. U.S. church leaders, who planned to work on a list of proposals last night, are expected to present ideas to the pope today.
The Rev. Thomas Reese, editor of the Jesuit journal America, said the most effective outcome would be for Rome to give the U.S. hierarchy fast-track approval for their measures.
So far, suggested policies have ranged from a national reporting system to church and police authorities, to lay panels to investigate complaints against priests.
"The Vatican could give the green light to the U.S. bishops to go forward in this area at their June meeting in Dallas," Father Reese said. The process could be speeded up, he said, if the cardinals left Rome with promises that "whatever they decide the Vatican will approve."
William Sweeney, who attends St. Peter's Catholic Church in Worcester, Mass., and believes that Boston's Cardinal Bernard F. Law should resign over his mishandling of priests who molested teen-agers, said the papal remarks are a starting point for serious change.
"I think this is a beginning, but he will need a lot of cooperation from the local church," Mr. Sweeney said.
"My other worry is that priests are being tried by the media, and some of these may be false accusations," he said. "I think once a guy is convicted, then you have to remove him."
Helen Donovan, who attends Queen of the Apostles Catholic Church in Alexandria, said that while the crimes of the priest are "inexcusable," she appreciated John Paul's comment on the entire culture.
The pope said: "The abuse of the young is a grave symptom of a crisis affecting not only the church, but society as a whole. It is a deep-seated crisis of sexual morality."
Mrs. Donovan said the modern culture has for so long criticized Catholic teachings on morality and now seems surprised and critical that priests would buy into some of the sexual deviation.
"All this time, they demanded that the church be tolerant of these moral problems in our culture," she said.
Her only criticism of the hierarchy, she said, is that it apparently had relied on "secular experts" about sexuality and psychology and as a result did not draw the line on the aberrant behavior of problem clergy.
"A crisis forces change," Mrs. Donovan said. "The Holy Father said it so well. The crisis can purge and purify the priesthood and the laity, and maybe even the culture."
In Ohio, Mark Moran said the Diocese of Cleveland has had a few abuse cases in its history and that he understands the problem is not just a "Catholic situation," but something everywhere in society.
"We just happen to be in the news right now," said Mr. Moran, who attends St. Joseph Catholic Church in Avon Lake, Ohio.
He welcomed the meeting in Rome, and said that what the pope says does have an effect at the parish level. Meanwhile, he said, "We need to confront this problem and then go on as Catholics."
Bishop Paul Loverde of the Diocese of Arlington said the pope's statement will strengthen the U.S. hierarchy and allow them to solve the problem in a tough but pastoral manner.
"The Holy Father's address certainly strengthens the bishops in their resolve to face the present crisis in an uncompromising manner," Bishop Loverde said.
He called the pope's statement an "unambiguous affirmation that sexual abuse of the young is both sinful and criminal."
Bishop Loverde added, however, that "pastoral charity" must also play a role in the new toughening of standards.

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