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Sunday, 24 March, 2002, 16:15 GMT
Paedophile priests in US face crackdown
Archbishop Egan
Cardinal Egan leads more than two million Catholics
The Roman Catholic Archbishop of New York has publicly promised to take a tough line on priests who abuse children.

In a letter to churchgoers, Cardinal Edward Egan said he regarded sexual abuse of children as an abomination.

Recent US scandals
Father John Geoghan convicted of abusing young boy
Florida bishop resigns after admitting molesting a teenager
Dozens of other priests suspended or forced to resign
He also defended himself against allegations that he had in the past been lenient towards priests accused of such behaviour.

The cardinal's message comes only days after Pope John Paul broke his silence on a wave of sex scandals which have battered the church's reputation.

Recently a major paedophile scandal has engulfed the church in the US, and clergy have been involved in cases of sexual abuse and harassment across Europe and in Australia.

Reporting abuse

Cardinal Edward Egan - the spiritual leader of about 2.4 million Catholics in New York - said that priests who abuse children would be removed from their parishes.

In a letter distributed at services for the start of Holy Week, Cardinal Egan told Catholics they should report allegations of abuse by a priest "directly and immediately".

Pope John Paul in Rome on Palm Sunday
The Pope has now called paedophilia the worst form of evil possible
But he stopped short of undertaking to pass on all such accusations to the civil authorities, saying they would be informed "if there was reasonable cause to suspect abuse".

The archbishop defended himself against allegations which surfaced in Connecticut - where he became bishop in 1988 - that he had allowed priests guilty of sexually abusing children to go unpunished.

Press reports have suggested that in several cases where priests were accused of such abuse, they were sent for counselling and moved to new posts, rather than reported to the police or defrocked.

But Cardinal Egan said in his letter that the cases in question occurred before he became bishop.

Criticism at home

His letter came amid indications that many Catholics in the US are unhappy at the way the church has dealt with the issue of child abuse.

A poll of New York Catholics carried out for the New York Daily News suggested that 68% disapproved of the leadership's handling of the crisis.

A separate survey for Newsweek magazine found that three-quarters of US Catholics thought the Church had been too lenient with priests.

The Vatican has frequently been criticised for its slow response to accusations of sexual misconduct, and its tendency to regard such reports as attempts to discredit the Church.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
'A policy of protecting priests is angering people'
The BBC's Katty Kay
See also:

21 Mar 02 | Europe
Pope denounces 'evil' sex priests
12 Mar 02 | Americas
Church agrees sex abuse payout
15 Jun 01 | Europe
Crisis in the confessional
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