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WEEKLY ROUNDUP Mar-25-2002 (1,330 words) xxxi

Pope, other church leaders address clergy sex abuse scandal

By John Thavis
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Church leaders from Pope John Paul II on down addressed the growing scandal of clerical sex abuse, even as new details emerged about cases inside and outside the United States.

The pope, in a letter March 21 to the world's priests, said the perpetrators of such scandals have betrayed the priesthood and cast a "shadow of suspicion" over the many good priests in the world.

"As priests we are personally and profoundly afflicted by the sins of some of our brothers who have betrayed the grace of ordination in succumbing even to the most grievous forms of the 'mysterium iniquitatis' (mystery of evil) at work in the world," the pope said.

He said the church was concerned for the victims of such abuse and wants to handle each case "in truth and justice." At the same time, he asked for prayers to reawaken the spiritual ideals of the priesthood.

At a press conference the same day, Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos, head of the Vatican's Congregation for Clergy, said the church has "never neglected the problem of sexual abuse, even before it ended up on the front pages of international newspapers."

Cardinal Castrillon traced the history of potential church sanctions against clerics who committed sexual abuse against minors and noted that in 2001 the pope had strengthened some of the provisions and consolidated the Vatican's role in handling such cases.

He said the problem of priestly sex abuse had developed at a time of widespread "sexual licentiousness." He also said he would like to see comparative statistics on sex abuse regarding priests and other professions and would like to know "the penalties the others have received and the money the others have paid to the victims."

In the United States, Cardinal Edward M. Egan of New York issued a letter defending his handling of past cases of clergy sex abuse while he was bishop of Bridgeport, Conn., from 1988 to 2000. The letter followed media reports questioning his oversight in Bridgeport, where some priests accused of past sex abuse had been allowed to continue working after psychiatric evaluation.

In a sermon in St. Patrick's Cathedral March 24, Cardinal Egan said he had taken steps to prevent future abuse in the New York Archdiocese and declared, "This evil will be stamped out with all the fervor of the Lord and the Lord's people."

Under Cardinal Egan's new policy in New York, the archdiocese will report alleged clerical abuse of minors to civil authorities "when there is reasonable cause to suspect that abuse has occurred and if the victims do not oppose the reporting."

Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau had called on the archdiocese to report any and all allegations it had of child abuse, including those in the past, to his office.

Bishop Thomas V. Daily of Brooklyn also issued a message on clerical sexual abuse, saying that he regretted some of the decisions he made as an auxiliary bishop of Boston. But he said the Brooklyn Diocese's response has been proper in two publicized cases where charges of abuse have been made.

Bishop Daily said that "betrayal at the hand of a trusted priest is, indeed, painful and most difficult to endure." He protested, however, that "the media and other individuals" dealing with pedophilia were focusing almost entirely on the Catholic Church and using "this tragedy" to "discredit our beliefs and values."

Meanwhile, there were legal developments on several alleged cases of clerical sex abuse. In California, criminal charges were dismissed or dropped against two former priests accused of molesting minors, a third priest was arrested and two others appeared in court on sex charges.

The criminal investigation of a Boston archdiocesan priest accused of molesting a teen-ager in 1971 was dropped because it was too late to prosecute. In the Diocese of Worcester, Mass., two priests were removed from ministry because of allegations of sexual misconduct.

Also in Massachusetts, the Springfield Diocese gave prosecutors its records on priests accused of sexual abuse of minors in the past; initially it had resisted turning over its records on past allegations.

In Boston, Cardinal Bernard F. Law's 15-member Commission for the Protection of Children met for the first time March 16 to select its chair and develop a charter for its work in coming months. The commission is charged with critiquing archdiocesan policies and advising the cardinal on future handling of sex abuse allegations.

Chairwoman Maureen Bateman, general counsel for State Street Corp., said the commission's top priority to protect children came even before the civil rights of the accused abuser. National attention on sex abuse was provoked in January by the trial of a defrocked Boston priest accused of abusing at least 130 children.

The Boston archdiocesan newspaper, The Pilot, clarified an earlier editorial that many had interpreted as a challenge to the church's tradition of priestly celibacy. The newspaper said in a new editorial March 22 that it was merely voicing some lay leaders' questions, including those on celibacy.

In the United States and around the world came other related developments:

-- The top leaders of the Canon Law Society of America called on the U.S. bishops to safeguard the rights of the accused and their accusers as the scandal over clergy sex abuse continues to unfold.

-- Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua of Philadelphia apologized March 24 to members of an archdiocesan parish for decades-old sex-abuse allegations.

"I very much understand the shock, discouragement and hurt which you are suffering as a result of this tragic revelation. It must cause you great pain. Please know that I, too, share in your suffering and sadness," the cardinal said.

-- Archbishop Elden F. Curtiss of Omaha told an 80-year-old former Catholic schoolteacher, "You should be ashamed of yourself!" because she wrote a letter to a local newspaper criticizing the archbishop's handling of a case involving a priest accused of viewing child pornography. In a letter to the woman, Archbishop Curtiss said she should have discussed the issue with him first, and he gave her a "penance" of one Hail Mary.

-- In Rome, U.S. diocesan seminarians attended special prayer services and house meetings to reflect on the sex abuse scandal and the challenge of rekindling trust in priests among the Catholic faithful. The future priests reported feelings of anger, disbelief and a sense of loss at the recent revelations, but said their overwhelming reaction was a renewed emphasis on priestly commitment.

-- Archbishop John P. Foley, president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, said the real tragedy of clerical sex abuse is not the embarrassment caused to the church, but the grave offense against God and children. Speaking in Philadelphia March 13, he said he suggested to Pope John Paul that the church declare a period of prayer and reparation for the "tragic moral flaws" revealed in the lives of some priests.

-- Archbishop Juliusz Paetz of Poznan, Poland, vigorously denied allegations that he sexually molested Catholic seminarians, saying his words and actions had been misinterpreted. The Vatican was investigating the accusations.

-- French investigators closed their case against an auxiliary bishop of Paris, Bishop Jean-Michel di Falco, because the statute of limitations had expired on allegations of sexual abuse that dated to 30 years ago. The bishop had denied the accusations, and an archdiocesan investigation last year found them baseless.

-- In Alberta, the Edmonton-based Oblates of Mary Immaculate of Grandin Province said they faced potential bankruptcy if the federal government does not assume responsibility for residential school abuses. The Grandin Oblates are directly named in about 1,200 lawsuits from native people claiming they were sexually, physically and emotionally abused at residential schools.

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