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Monday, 22 April, 2002, 21:14 GMT 22:14 UK
Bishops review sex scandals action
Pope John Paul II
The Pope has denounced guilty priests as "evil" abusers
Senior Roman Catholic bishops have been gathering in several countries to discuss how to deal with priests who sexually abuse children.

A wave of scandals around the world has rocked the church, particularly in the United States.

In Ireland, Catholic bishops met behind closed doors to finalise plans for an internal audit to investigate child abuse.


This is a wake-up call for the Church

Cardinal Bernard Law, Boston
Their German counterparts decided to set up a special commission to study the problem of child sex abuse perpetrated by priests.

The meetings come as US cardinals arrive in Rome summoned by Pope John Paul II to discuss the sex scandals which they themselves say are undermining their Church.

The American cardinals are due to hold private talks with the Pope before two days of formal talks with Vatican officials begin on Tuesday.

They will be looking for guidance and backing on a wide range of issues, including whether the church should draw up a policy for reporting abuse claims to the police.

America's most senior cardinal, the Archbishop of Boston Bernard Law, is under growing pressure to resign after acknowledging that he transferred a priest to another parish despite knowing of sexual misconduct allegations against him.

Bankruptcy fears

Before Mass on Sunday, Cardinal Law said the sex abuse scandal was undermining the church and that more must be done to overcome the crisis.

Archbishop Bernard Law
Cardinal Law is under pressure to resign
"This is a wake-up call for the Church," Cardinal Law said referring to the landmark Rome gathering.

He also told worshippers that he wished he "could turn the clock back and undo the harm and hurt that have been caused to children, to families and others."

More than 400 complaints have been lodged against priests in the Boston diocese alone.

And accusations of child molestation have been made in at least 16 other US dioceses including Chicago, New York, Philadelphia and San Francisco.

The scandals are also a huge financial burden for the Church and there is talk that some archdioceses will be bankrupted as a result.

'Evil'

Although the US church is the hardest hit by sex abuse allegations, similar scandals have hit clergy in different countries in recent years, including Austria, Ireland, Poland, France and Australia.

Earlier this month the Bishop of Ferns in the Republic of Ireland resigned following criticism over his handling of sex abuse allegations.

The Irish Church has said its investigation into allegations of child sex abuse will go back more than 60 years and will be carried out by lay people who are experts in child protection and legislation.

German bishops meeting in Wuerzburg agreed that a special commission would study the child sex abuse problem and if necessary set up an expert team to create binding rules for the Catholic Church in Germany.

In his annual letter to priests before Easter, the Pope denounced the "sins of our brothers" which brought scandal upon the Church and made the laity suspicious of even the "finest" priests.

He said these brothers had succumbed to "the most grievous form of evil at work in the world".

See also:

22 Apr 02 | Northern Ireland
Bishops to discuss child abuse
22 Apr 02 | Americas
US Catholics worry for future
16 Apr 02 | Americas
US cardinal welcomes Pope talks
21 Mar 02 | Europe
Pope denounces 'evil' sex priests
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