KWAME HOLMAN: This morning, Pope John Paul II began the unusual two-day session with the American Cardinals by using his strongest words yet to describe the incidents of sexual abuse involving American clergy.
POPE JOHN PAUL II: The abuse which has caused...
KWAME HOLMAN: "The abuse which has caused this crisis," he said, "is by every standard wrong, and rightly considered a crime by society." Addressing the victims of what he called "an appalling sin in the eyes of God," the Pope said, "I express my profound sense of solidarity and concern." Outside the private meeting, some demonstrators said the crisis must be an impetus for church reform.
DANIELE CAPEZZONI: 90%, 90% of sexual violence against children happen in the family, in the Catholic family.
KWAME HOLMAN: The incidents and allegations of improper conduct involving priests have received growing publicity since January. Cases now are reported in some 17 cities, from Cleveland to Los Angeles to Palm Beach, Florida. Across the country, an estimated 3,000 American priests face allegations of child sexual abuse.
Boston's Cardinal Bernard Law is at the center of one controversy. He's accused of failing to discipline priests in the Boston archdiocese, including Father John Geoghan, who, in March, was sentenced to ten years in prison for sexually abusing a ten-year- old boy. Last week, Cardinal Law acknowledged he made a visit to the Vatican. Afterward, he said he would not step down. However, on Sunday he offered words of contrition.
CARDINAL BERNAD LAW: Regrettably, I and many others have been late to recognize the inadequacies of past policies, the dimension of the crisis, and the changes required to restore a sense of trust. I wish that I could turn the clock back and undo the harm
KWAME HOLMAN: New York Cardinal Edward Egan also expressed remorse in the face of charges he failed to discipline priests despite charges of pedophilia. Egan said Sunday for the first time that "mistakes may have been made." On the agenda for the Vatican meetings today and tomorrow is whether the Church should establish standards for dealing with problem priests. After today's morning session, Cardinal Roger Mahoney of Los Angeles told ABC the Pope had endorsed a zero-tolerance policy on pedophilia.
CARDINAL ROGER MAHONEY, Archbishop of Los Angeles: Well, we got that commitment from the Holy Father, who practically said it more clearly than anyone has said it. And, in addition, he has assured us, through the officials of the Holy See, that the administrative canonical processes we need to make sure that priests who are abusers are put out of the priesthood.
KWAME HOLMAN: But Cardinal Francis George of Chicago said there was no consensus on zero tolerance. The problem, he says, is that the sins in question are not all the same.
CARDINAL FRANCIS GEORGE, Archbishop of Chicago: There is a difference between a moral monster like Geoghan who prays upon little children and does so in a serial fashion, and to someone who, perhaps under the influence of alcohol, engages in an action with a 17- or 16-year-old young woman who returns his affection. In terms of the culpability and in terms of the possibility for a reform of one's life, they are two very difference sets of circumstances.
KWAME HOLMAN: The scandal may yield discussion of other issues, including homosexuality in the ministry. And at least one U.S. Cardinal said he'll raise the Church's celibacy requirement before the meetings end tomorrow.