- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 25, 2002

ROME America's Roman Catholic cardinals last night proposed tough guidelines for the defrocking of "notorious" priests who commit serial child abuse and of some other clergymen who pose a threat to children.
In a letter to the American clergy issued at the end of a two-day conference on child sex abuse, the 12 cardinals also admitted that they should have done more to avert a scandal that had imposed a "heavy burden of sorrow and shame" on all clergymen.
"We regret that episcopal oversight has not been able to preserve the church from this scandal," they said.
In a final statement, the prelates proposed that a U.S. bishops' conference in Dallas in June "recommend a special process for the dismissal from the clerical state of a priest who has become notorious and is guilty of the serial predatory, sexual abuse of minors."
By the use of the word "serial," the statement stopped short of adopting a "one strike and you're out" rule requiring the automatic defrocking of any priest found guilty of child abuse. That could still be implemented in June.
The cardinals said they also would propose a special procedure "for cases which are not notorious but where the diocesan bishop considers the priest a threat for the protection of children and young people."
The 12 American cardinals issued the statement at the end of a second day of closed-door meetings with Vatican officials and one day after the pope told the visiting prelates that child abuse was "rightly considered a crime" by society and an "appalling sin."
The cardinals called for a national day of prayer and penance in reparation for offenses by priests and pledged to reform American seminaries.
The embattled princes of the church reaffirmed their commitment to priestly celibacy and said that "the cases of true pedophilia on the part of priests and religious are few" but added that "all the participants recognized the gravity of the problem."
"Almost all the cases involved adolescents and therefore were not cases of true pedophilia," the statement said. Pedophilia by definition involves sex with pre-pubescent children.
The cardinals said they would submit to the Vatican for review "a set of national standards in which essential elements for policies dealing with the sexual abuse of minors in dioceses and religious institutes are set forth."
Earlier, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington said the cardinals would deal firmly with future abusers. "Once the Holy Father says there is no place in the priestly ministry for someone who harms children, then you have to work from there," he told reporters.
"In view of what the pope said, and this is my reading of it it seems that anyone in the future who would do something like that to a child or a youngster, then that is it."
Asked if the cardinals were likely to adopt a "one strike and you're out policy" at the conference of American bishops in June, Cardinal McCarrick said, "Oh, I think so."
On Tuesday, Cardinal McCarrick made a five-point proposal for a national church policy on child abuse.
These were:
Reaching out to victims.
Placing priests accused of child abuse on some sort of "administrative leave" while they are under investigation.
Informing civil authorities of suspected cases of child abuse.
Sending accused priests to therapeutic centers for psychological evaluation.
Setting up diocesan review boards composed of lay people as well as clergy to examine accusations.
Cardinal Francis George of Chicago agreed that the prelates were moving toward draconian measures against abusers but said some participants including himself favored a more nuanced position that left open the option of rehabilitation of offenders.
"If one held a vote now, I am sure that the majority of cardinals would support zero tolerance," he said. "Personally, I am in favor of rehabilitation, perhaps allowing a ministry far away from children. The important thing is to protect children."
The conference began with strong speculation that Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston was on the point of resigning because of his tolerance of priests charged with abuse in his diocese. One former clergyman, John G. Geoghan, is accused of molesting more than 130 children in Boston.
Cardinal Law apologized during a private meeting with his colleagues on Monday night, but his future was not discussed during the formal sessions, church sources said. Some speculated he might resign at the U.S. conference of bishops in June.
Vatican watchers yesterday praised the pope's remarks to the cardinals, but some warned that an overly harsh response could exacerbate a shortage of priests in Europe and the United States.
"The pope recognized that errors were committed," said Luigi Accatoli, the respected Vatican correspondent of the Corriere della Sera. "The recognition was overdue but nevertheless important as a potential first step to arrive at decisive remedies. The so-called 'zero tolerance' will be the easiest to adopt.
"The application of more selective criteria in seminaries and among religious students will be more arduous. Greater selection contrasts, in fact, with the penury of vocations from which the church has been suffering for some time in Europe and North America."
Mr. Accatoli noted that the pope had made it clear that there would be no discussion of priestly celibacy during the U.S. bishops conference. But he acknowledged that the sex-abuse crisis is adding to the growing pressure in the church to allow married priests, conceivably in the next papacy.
"It's not enough to say that married men are as much to blame for abuses on minors as the celibate. The exclusion of candidates at risk would be easier to achieve if there was less need for celibate priests. This need could be reduced by the ordination of married men of a mature age in addition to the celibate."

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