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Wednesday, 17 April, 2002, 09:50 GMT 10:50 UK
US cardinal divulges secret Vatican talks
Protesters outside Cardinal Law's residence in Boston
Cardinal Law faces pressure to resign
A senior US cardinal has disclosed that he held secret talks with Pope John Paul II about the child sex abuse scandal in the American church.

Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston revealed that he made an unannounced trip to the Vatican in the past few days to "seek counsel and advice" from the Pope and other Roman Catholic leaders.

I return home encouraged in my efforts to provide the strongest possible leadership...(so) that no child is ever abused again by a priest of this archdiocese

Cardinal Bernard Law
Cardinal Law has faced intense pressure to resign after it was alleged that he protected priests accused of sexual misconduct and failed to keep them away from children.

He made his trip to Rome in secret while his home was besieged by protesters and journalists.

Cardinal Law, who is 70, said last week that he had no intention of resigning. He gave no indication that his talks with the Pope and other senior Vatican figures had changed his mind.

"The fact that my resignation has been proposed as necessary was part of my presentation," he said in a statement.

"The Pope and those others with whom I met are very conscious of the gravity of the situation. It is clear to me that the primary emphasis of the Holy See, like that of the church in the archdiocese, is upon the protection of children."

Summoned to Rome

Cardinal Law's statement came as the 13 American cardinals prepared to meet the Pope and other senior Catholic leaders in the Vatican next week to discuss the crisis.

Cash crisis
The Roman Catholic church is the biggest non-governmental organisation in the United States, where there are about 65 million Catholics out of a population of 280 million.
More than two million American children attend Catholic schools
The Catholic church runs more than 200 universities and colleges
Catholic hospitals treat nearly 20 per cent of US patients
The wealthy American church now faces financial difficulties because donations are dwindling
It has also paid large amounts to victims of sex abuse

The scandal began with the trial of defrocked Boston priest John Geoghan and has grown into the worst controversy which has ever shaken the American Catholic Church.

Dozens of priests in the United States were suspended or sued over allegations that they had molested children. A bishop in Florida has resigned.

Sex abuse scandals have also tarnished the church's reputation in some European countries.

Two bishops have been forced to resign - one in Ireland and one in Poland - both predominantly Catholic countries.

"I return home encouraged in my efforts to provide the strongest possible leadership...(so) that no child is ever abused again by a priest of this archdiocese," Cardinal Law said.

Difficult talks

Cardinal Roger Mahony
Cardinal Mahony was blunt about the reason for the crisis talks

Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles said on Tuesday he was looking forward to talks with the Pope next week which would be "open, frank and without limitations".

"A healthy dialogue with officials in the Vatican is essential to repairing the past damage and to create a more open and honest way of dealing with any type of misconduct," he said in a statement.

The Vatican said the meeting was meant to "restore security and serenity to the families and trust to the clergy and the faithful".

The BBC's Justin Webb says that as Cardinal Mahony was speaking, the crisis deepened, with police in Los Angeles saying they were investigating allegations of child abuse after receiving 70 complaints involving 50 priests.

More than 400 complaints have been made in Boston alone - and the Archbishop of New York is also under pressure to resign over allegations that he took no action against priests accused of sexual misconduct.

Our correspondent says the scandal has severely dented the credibility of the Church and the Vatican now believes it has to act.

See also:

15 Apr 02 | Americas
Pope orders talks on US sex scandals
09 Apr 02 | Americas
Abuse claims dog US priests
04 Apr 02 | Americas
Vatican sued in sex abuse cases
06 Apr 02 | Americas
Accused US priest found dead
08 Apr 02 | Americas
US priests suspended over sex claims
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