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Thursday, 25 April, 2002, 10:46 GMT 11:46 UK
Analysis: US cardinals get message
Cardinal Theodore McCarrick
Facing the media: Cardinal Theodore McCarrick
The American cardinals believe they now have a strategy for ending the scandal that has shaken the Catholic Church.

After two days of talks with the Pope and his advisers at the Vatican, they have a list of proposals for dealing with priests who sexually abuse children.


It is pretty clear the Holy Father is calling for zero tolerance

Theodore McCarrick
Archbishop of Washington DC
Given the anger of many Catholics in the United States, it was clear the cardinals had to find a new approach to a problem that has bedevilled the church for years.

"The abuse which has caused this crisis is by every standard wrong, and rightly considered a crime by society," the Pope told them bluntly.

"People need to know that there is no place in the priesthood and religious life for those who harm the young."

Scandal

The Pope's use of the word "crime" was significant.

Cardinal Roger Mahony
Cardinal Mahony: Time to discuss priest celibacy
For years, some bishops regarded priests who molested children as sinners who should be given the opportunity to confess and change their ways.

In practice, it meant that errant priests were moved quietly from one parish to another to avoid a public scandal.

But in many cases the temptation remained, and they continued to sexually abuse young people.

Now, after the latest scandal, it is accepted that where there is evidence of a priest molesting children, he should be removed from his ministry immediately and the authorities must be informed.

In some parts of the United States, such a policy is already in force, and the church abides by the requirements of state laws to report all cases involving minors. Other dioceses will now be expected to fall into line.

Gay priests

In future, serial offenders and those considered a particular risk to children should not get a second chance.

Pope John Paul II
John Paul II: Strong words about paedophile priests
The words used by the Pope leave no doubt about that, according to Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the Archbishop of Washington DC.

"If you are looking to the future, I would say it is pretty clear that the Holy Father is calling for zero tolerance," he told a news conference.

But many in the United States want to know if this will mean "one strike and you're out" for every priest identified as an abuser.

Victims of priests also include teenage boys, and young men studying for the priesthood.

This in turn has raised questions about the church's attitude towards gay members of clergy. Should attempts be made to exclude homosexuals from the priesthood?

Bishop Wilton Gregory, president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, admits it is "a struggle" to ensure the priesthood is not dominated by homosexual men.

So there is still much to be discussed when the cardinals return to the United States.

Humble

In June, all the bishops of the American church will gather in Dallas, to finalise the new policy hammered out in Rome.

Bishop Wilton Gregory
Bishop Wilton Gregory says homosexuals must not dominate priesthood
Father Thomas Reese, editor of the Jesuit magazine America, says structural reforms could also lead to a change in attitudes within the church.

"This crisis could result in a more humble clerical culture where clergy and bishops listen as much as they speak," he says.

"This could make a big difference."

One issue left unresolved in Rome is whether, in the light of the present scandal, priests should be allowed to marry.

Cardinals insist that celibacy is not a cause of paedophilia. But the Archbishop of Los Angeles, Roger Mahony, thinks it is time for the issue to be discussed.

The Vatican summit may have concentrated their minds, but the cardinals were in no doubt that Catholics across the United States wanted action, and quickly.

The message is very clear: in future there must be no hiding place for paedophiles in the church.

The Church has been rocked by recent abuse revelations

Boston cardinal quits

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24 Apr 02 | Europe
09 Apr 02 | Americas
12 Mar 02 | Americas
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