U.S. Catholic Leaders Set to Expel Pedophiles
Updated 11:46 AM ET April 24, 2002
By Philip Pullella and Crispian Balmer
VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - U.S. Roman Catholic Church officials meeting at the Vatican looked set to approve a ``one strike and you're out'' policy to expel future child molesters from the priesthood, a participant said Wednesday.
``Once the Holy Father says there is no place in the priestly ministry for someone who harms children then you have to work from there,'' said Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington.
``In view of what the pope said, and this is my reading of it ... it seems that anyone in the future who would do something like that to a child or a youngster, then that is it,'' he said.
Asked if the cardinals were likely to adopt the ``one strike and you're out policy'' to expel pedophile priests after a first offense, McCarrick said: ``Oh, I think so.''
Pope John Paul II told the Americans Tuesday he would no longer tolerate pedophile priests. The 12 U.S. bishops were due to issue a final statement later Wednesday after wrapping up the two days of talks.
The words from McCarrick were the clearest indication since the meetings began that the cardinals wanted a clean break with past policy which, in some cases tolerated the presence of pedophile priests after psychological treatment.
However, McCarrick said there was still debate about whether the hard-line policy should be retroactive.
``Say 30 years ago someone had some trouble and since then has never had any trouble and the people know and say he is a good man ... do I say 'You're out?' Well, I've got to pray about that and think about that and I've got to talk to the lay people,'' said McCarrick.
LUNCH WITH WORRIED POPE
McCarrick said the U.S. delegation had met the pope for lunch Wednesday where he had reiterated his message.
``He is anxious that we don't go in a way that is unjust to anyone and he is anxious that we are as supportive of the victims and their families and as supportive of the holiness of the church,'' McCarrick said.
``The Holy Father is such an extraordinary person with children and young people ... and they understand and love him. The fact that priests may have hurt them is so painful for him that he is determined.''
The scandal that has enveloped the United States in recent months centers around Boston, where Cardinal Bernard Law has come under fire for transferring at least two pedophile priests from parish to parish in his diocese.
There have been growing calls for Law to resign for the good of the church but no decision has been made yet.
The pope Tuesday formulated his own zero tolerance policy on pedophile priests.
``People need to know that there is no place in the priesthood and religious life for those who would harm the young,'' the pope told the meeting.
U.S. churchmen will formulate a national policy in June on the dismissal of priests who have abused children and the pope's comments were expected to have a vital influence on their decision.
One of the most difficult policy decisions the bishops will face in June is how to give a priest a fair hearing if they are accused of abusing children.
``How do you handle it when someone comes up and says someone has done something wrong,'' one of the participants, Cardinal Edward Egan of New York, said Wednesday.
``Do you immediately walk away from that person? Can you (presume) that he is accused and therefore he is guilty? How do you approach it?'' he asked.
``Well, one bishop may say, 'I think he is a pretty fine fellow and I want to look into this before I make any decision.' Another might say, 'I want to send him away for psychological studies to see what experts say,''' said Egan, who is accused of having transferred pedophile priests when he was in an earlier post in Connecticut.
But Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles said the pope was being ``as clear as he can be.''
``There is no place for abusers in the priesthood, whatsoever. You can convert hearts and offer reconciliation but you can't reassign them.''
McCarrick made a five-point proposal Tuesday for a national policy on pedophilia that included reaching out to victims; removing a pedophile priest from office while an investigation goes on; informing civil authorities, sending the priest to a therapeutic center for evaluation and including lay people on diocesan review boards as well as clergy.