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Background: Catholic Church in Crisis

April 25, 2002 at 12:00 AM EDT


MARGARET WARNER: Now, responding to this week’s Vatican gathering of American Cardinals. Ray Suarez has that.

RAY SUAREZ: Throughout their two-day summit at the Vatican this week, American Cardinals made it clear that sexual abuse of minors was both a sin and a criminal act. They were less clear on what to do with offenders.

At a press conference last night in Rome, the American leaders said there was a general “consensus” that priests who sexually abuse children should leave the ministry. On paper, the Cardinals specifically endorsed a special process in the U.S. Church to dismiss “notorious” priests guilty of “serial, predatory sexual abuse of minors.” They also proposed a dismissal process for priests considered “not notorious,” if the local Bishop considered the priest a future threat to children. Reporters asked why the Cardinals didn’t endorse a “one- strike-and-you’re-out” provision.

REPORTER: When you distinguish between a serial offender and a first- time offender, aren’t you compromising the idea of zero tolerance?

CARDINAL THEODORE McCARRICK: Not for the future. In other words, I think we’re saying we… I think this is a question of what is available now in law. If you have a serial notorious offender, you’ve got a better chance because of the present law, as I understand it, to move quickly and to change that. What we want to have is also that first offender, if that’s an… if that’s obviously a predatory problem and we need to move fast to ensure that no harm’s going to come to people, then we want to be able to work fast on that one, too.

REPORTER: What will the policy be for Cardinals, priests, Bishops who cover up known abusers?

CARDINAL THEODORE McCARRICK: I think that’s probably going to be an unwritten policy. I don’t think… I can’t see how anyone in the United States today would cover up something like that. It would be… what may have happened in the past through inattention or through whatever, I don’t think what we’ve gone through, what our people have gone through, what the victims have gone through, I don’t see that that… I can’t see anyone with a responsibility in the Church ever trying to cover up anything.

RAY SUAREZ: Covering up sex with minors on the part of priests is specifically what critics have alleged of Boston’s Cardinal Bernard Law. They want him to step down.

REPORTER: Is there a degree to which leaving him in a position to make decisions is like leaving Richard Nixon around to clean up Watergate?

BISHOP WILTON GREGORY, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops: The situation regarding Cardinal Law is a matter that belongs exclusively to the holy father and to Cardinal law. I have no idea what individual Bishops sitting around that table may have thought, but I do know that the issue of Cardinal Law and his service to the archdiocese of Boston was not one of the topics.

RAY SUAREZ: Earlier today, Cardinal law himself spoke to reporters for the first time in months.

CARDINAL BERNARD LAW: I think it was a good meeting. I particularly was grateful for the Holy Father’s talk. I thought it was excellent. Very good spirit, very frank, very open. And you mentioned my resignation. That never came up.

RAY SUAREZ: Cardinal Law and the rest of the American Bishops will meet in Dallas in June to consider the new proposals.