- The Washington Times - Friday, April 26, 2002

The U.S. Catholic cardinals began returning from Rome yesterday with promises to address the sexual-abuse crisis but with mixed reviews and no real legislative changes until the bishops meet in June.
"Their statement in Rome was lucid and straightforward," said the Rev. Richard John Neuhaus, editor of the journal First Things. "Faithfulness to the morals and teachings of the church is the key. Whether this will lead to genuine renewal, we'll have to see."
Other Catholics said the cardinals seemed reluctant to crack down fully on errant priests.
"It is shocking that our most high-ranking leaders cannot even agree that a priest who even once abuses a child must leave the priesthood," said Frances Kissling, president of Catholics for a Free Choice.
"A lawyer who violates the canons of his profession is no longer a lawyer, ditto a doctor," she said.
While the cardinals' statement released Wednesday night in Rome touched on disciplining priests, the exact approach can be decided only by vote of all the U.S. bishops in June.
Last week, Archbishop Harry J. Flynn of St. Paul and Minneapolis was appointed to lead that project with an ad hoc committee on sexual abuse.
In Rome, the cardinals said they hope to set down "national standards" for policing abuse problems and dismissing any cleric who is "notorious and is guilty of the serial, predatory, sexual abuse of minors."
They also will seek a new canonical provision to unilaterally "laicize" a priest. Presently, lifting of his "clerical state" is done only at the priest's request because ordination is viewed as a sacrament bestowed by God.
The bishops also want a canonical change so they can immediately defrock a guilty priest, a process taking months or years in the past.
"Where there is disagreement is over what to do with a priest who was involved in non-serial abuse 20 or 30 years ago and has been clean ever since," said the Rev. Thomas Reese, editor of the journal America.
He said Bishop Wilton Gregory, president of the U.S. bishops, seems to back immediate dismissals while some cardinals want a lay review board, which may allow a one-time past offender to stay in a limited ministry.
Either way, Father Reese said, "the consensus has moved away from leaving such decisions to the bishop alone."
The bishops are expected to be under new pressures, meanwhile, to follow the lead of archdioceses that have disclosed the names of all priests with past complaints of abuse.
Before leaving Rome, the U.S. prelates apologized to the nation's 47,000 priests for mishandling the problem.
"We regret that episcopal oversight has not been able to preserve the church from this scandal," the 12 cardinals and Bishop Gregory said in a letter.
When the bishops carry out a review of seminaries and their "admission requirements," they will find a much improved "modern seminary" over those of two decades ago, said the Rev. Thomas Baima, provost of St. Mary of the Lake Mundelein Seminary in Chicago.
"At Mundelein, and I think everywhere, we've been very careful about the recruitment, screening, formation and evaluation of our future priests," said Father Baima, whose seminary trains candidates sent by 46 dioceses.
"We have to err on the side of caution." he said.
Some church leaders said too many homosexuals in the priesthood may have added to the problem, and cited subcultures in seminaries of the past.
"Whether the bishops will sponsor of survey to collect data on the percent of homosexuals in the priesthood and seminaries remains to be seen," Father Reese said, noting that some think a culture of homosexuality in the Catholic clergy has hurt recruitment of heterosexuals.

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