- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 28, 2002

Washington Cardinal Theodore McCarrick is reassuring Catholics that the church will take action against any sexual abuse by priests, the latest declaration by a U.S. bishop following highly publicized accusations in the Archdiocese of Boston.

"Once a clear case has been made, an offending individual should never be placed in a position of trust with children ever again," Cardinal McCarrick says in today's issue of the weekly Catholic Standard.

On Tuesday, Philadelphia Cardinal Anthony Bevelaqua offered "deepest apologies" for what his archdiocese reported to be "credible evidence" that 35 priests had sexually abused about 50 children dating back several decades.

"In each reported case, we have not discouraged people from going to law enforcement," Cardinal Bevelaqua said in his statement, which was republished in today's archdiocesan Catholic Standard & Times. "It has, in fact, been our preference that civil authorities investigate these matters."

Because of rules against giving new jobs after charges of abuse, Cardinal Bevelaqua said, "I do not know of any priest who has had sexual contact with a minor who is in a current assignment."

In his letter today, Washington's Cardinal McCarrick said the archdiocese has "one of the most comprehensive and stringent procedures to guard against child sexual abuse of any agency, religious or secular, in the country."

But he also urged support for the overwhelming number of priests who do no wrong and are dispirited by the terrible publicity.

"Many of the cases now in the media are from past decades," he said. "Experts say that there is no evidence that priests are more likely to engage in sexual misconduct against minors than men in other professions."

In 1995, the archdiocese dismissed four priests who had abused the same altar boy during the 1970s, and one admitted to abusing a second youth from 1988 to 1993. The four were separately charged by police.

Two of the priests had been accused in 1986, but after psychological treatment retained non-pastoral assignments.

The Washington Archdiocese anti-abuse policy, set up in 1985 and updated in 1993, says: "Any instance of known or suspected child abuse must be reported to the civil authority and to archdiocesan authority."

In the Archdiocese of Boston, the main outcry has been over church officials moving accused priests to new assignments. One case was 66-year-old former priest John Geoghan, who last week was a sentenced in a Boston court to nine to 10 years for groping a 10-year-old boy.

He has been accused of molesting more than 130 children in several parishes.

Within the past month, Boston Cardinal Bernard Law has given prosecutors the names of 80 priests suspected of molesting children during the past four decades. He also suspended 10 active priests, one of whom has pleaded innocent and appealed to Rome.

Cardinal McCarrick, calling his statement an "unpleasant task" prompted by letters from parishioners, said Catholic leaders have changed their medical and legal views on what seemed a correctable "grave moral fault" decades ago.

"Psychiatrists and other mental health experts began to understand that [it was] a deep-seated psychological illness that could only be controlled by lengthy hospitalization," he said.

Other major archdioceses, such as Los Angeles, Baltimore, Chicago, and New York, have posted or given news reporters their lengthy policies on taking action when charges of sexual abuse are made.

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