- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 6, 2002

Washington Cardinal Theodore McCarrick predicted yesterday that the nation's Catholic bishops will reject a sexual-misconduct policy when they meet next week in Dallas because it allows priests guilty of one past offense to remain in the ministry.
"I think our people are saying 'zero tolerance' forward and backwards," he told reporters, adding that he personally favors the proposal outlined on Tuesday. The proposal advocates the automatic defrocking of priests only if the sexual abuse occurred from this week forth.
"But I have always been somewhat hesitant about that," he said at his headquarters in Hyattsville. "I think of a case 30 years ago where a man might have been drinking, might have done one thing and never did it again. People get to know about it, and no other allegations come up, and people say, 'Let him stay. We'll watch him. We know him.'"
The lack of a zero-tolerance clause for past abuse has been the main sticking point in a six-page "draft document for the protection of children and young people" released Tuesday. Prepared by the bishops' Ad Hoc Committee on Sexual Abuse, it will be voted on June 14 at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops meeting in Dallas.
Prepared in response to the growing sex scandals involving priests and young men in 17 U.S. dioceses, it has a zero-tolerance policy for abuses committed henceforth. But it allows a priest guilty of one past offense to continue in the ministry under certain stringent conditions that must be agreed to by the victim and a diocesan review board.
Some prelates, such as Baltimore's Cardinal William Keeler, oppose what detractors have named the "one strike, you're in" policy. So does Galveston-Houston Bishop Joseph A. Fiorenza, a former head of the bishops conference, who told reporters yesterday that he has zero tolerance toward any abuse, even in the past.
So do the four Catholic bishops of the province of Atlanta, which includes three states.
"We will never knowingly put a child in harm's way," said Bishop Robert J. Baker of Charleston, S.C. "This is our commitment to the people of God from their bishops."
Cardinal McCarrick is adamant that "any priest who would ever hurt a child or a young person is either sick and should not be a priest or is in violation of everything and should not be a priest."
But older priests should get some leeway, he said, and they should not be removed from all ministry because of one long-ago incident that has not been repeated.
"You should allow him to be somewhere," the cardinal said. "It is hard to say to a man in his 70s or 80s that you're not going to be a priest any more. I'd say put him in a monastery, in an atmosphere where he can't do any harm anymore, but he can still live out his life as a priest."
The vast majority of bishops agree with Cardinal Keeler, he said, but "some are struggling as I am to find a place for a man who has only had this happen once."
He is not oblivious to victims' feelings, he said, adding, "I've been talking to victims more than I ever have before, and I think I understand more than I ever have before."
Still, he admitted, the bishops have lost "a great deal" of credibility over the scandals, which have led to multiple lawsuits and have cost billions of dollars. In April, the Vatican summoned U.S. cardinals to Rome for an extraordinary two-day summit on sexual abuse by priests. It has yet to comment officially on the draft document, although Vatican radio reported on it yesterday without comment.
Cardinal McCarrick said it's up to the media to portray the lengths that prelates are willing to go to correct the problem, if only to reassure the nation's 63 million Catholics.
"I think it's important that our own people, after Dallas, say, 'OK, they've got the picture. They may have been long in getting that, but they've got the picture,'" he said.
"A lot of that is going to depend on the media. If they keep saying the bishops aren't paying attention, it will take longer. If the media says we see they've tried to pull this together, then our people will get the message.
"I believe the Catholic people of the United States really want to trust the bishops," he said. "They have to see now we are really trying. We are saying: 'We have been too slow; we have been too dull; we have been too hesitant. Now, here is what we have done. Believe us.'"
The Dallas meeting, which will be covered by 650 credentialed members of the media, with hundreds more turned away, will put much pressure on the bishops, he said.


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