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Tuesday, 23 April, 2002, 11:28 GMT 12:28 UK
Pope condemns US church sex abuse
Cardinal Bernard Law in Rome
Only American cardinals have been called to Rome
The Pope has made his strongest condemnation yet of sexual abuse by priests.

He told American cardinals there was no place in the Roman Catholic Church for priests who sexually abused children.

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

Pope John Paul II
He addressed the 12 cardinals after they held unprecedented talks amid sustained criticism of the American Catholic Church's handling of a series of child sex abuse scandals involving priests.

"The abuse which has caused this crisis is by every standard wrong and rightly considered a crime by society; it is also an appalling sin in the eyes of God," said the Pope in his address, the text of which was released by the Vatican.

He added that a "generalised lack of knowledge of the nature of the problem, and also at times the advice of clinical experts, led bishops to make decisions which subsequent events showed to be wrong".

Bernard Law, Archbishop of Boston
Cardinal Law is under pressure to resign
The 81-year-old pontiff also said that the "immense spiritual and social good" of a vast majority of priests in the United States should not be forgotten.

The growing number of cases of sexual abuse of minors by American Catholic priests - both alleged cases and those which have led to criminal convictions - has spurred calls for drastic action.

After the initial meeting, Bishop Wilton Gregory told a press conference that the cardinals had a clear task ahead of them: "We must assure our people that we will not place their children in harm's way."

Growing alarm

I will talk my children out of being an altar boy or girl and that is the saddest thing
Sandra, Canada

To read more of your comments, click here
The cardinals were looking for Vatican guidance and backing on a range of issues, including whether

  • the church should draw up a policy for reporting abuse claims to the police
  • paedophile priests can stay in the ministry or if a "one strike and you're out" rule should be applied
The meeting was called by the Pope in response to growing alarm in both the American media and the American Catholic community regarding the issue.

Although sex abuse scandals have rocked dioceses in other nations, only the American cardinals have been called to the Vatican.

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

One unnamed US cardinal told The Los Angeles Times that he and other prelates planned to urge the Vatican to ask Cardinal Law to resign.

Before the address by the Pope, the cardinals met him for informal talks. They will also hold formal talks with Vatican officials in charge of priests and bishops worldwide, including Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who is in overall charge of doctrinal discipline in the church.

Financial burden

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.

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 Mexico.

The BBC's Brian Barron in Rome
"The Pope said there is no place in the church for those who harm the young"
Italy Daily's Laura Collura
"It is not seen as something that could hurt or damage the Italian Church in anyway"
National Catholic Reporter's John Allen
"The conversation here is unusually frank and honest"
See also:

22 Apr 02 | Americas
US Catholics worry for future
16 Apr 02 | Americas
US cardinal welcomes Pope talks
23 Apr 02 | Americas
US press: Senior cardinal 'to go'
23 Apr 02 | Europe
A global scandal
23 Apr 02 | Europe
Text of the Pope's speech
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