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Pope summons U.S. cardinals over scandals

Theologian calls it trip 'to the woodshed'

Pope John Paul II
Pope John Paul II  

VATICAN CITY (CNN) -- Stepping into a controversy that has rocked the Roman Catholic Church, Pope John Paul II has summoned U.S. cardinals to Rome for a meeting at the Vatican to discuss the problem of priests who molest children, a Vatican official said Monday.

One theologian in the United States described the highly unusual call by the pope as a visit to the "woodshed" for the U.S. cardinals.

The meeting is to take place April 23-24, said a source with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Also invited to Rome are Bishop Wilton Gregory and Bishop William S. Skylstad, the president and vice president of the conference.

The Vatican official expressed surprise that news of the meeting had been revealed in Washington and said a more formal statement about the matter would be issued later this week.

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Accusations of sexual abuse of teens and children by priests have been surfacing for several years, but the volume of cases in recent months has stirred calls for stronger action by the Catholic Church.

The scandal has shaken several archdioceses in the United States, especially Boston's. Over the weekend, demonstrators called for the resignation of Boston's Cardinal Bernard Law, saying he failed to protect children from sexually abusive priests.

In a letter sent Friday to priests in the archdiocese, Law said he wants to help solve the crisis, acknowledging the archdiocese had handled the issue poorly.

Thomas Groome, a professor of religious studies at Boston College, said the fact that only U.S. cardinals have been summoned is significant.

"The fact that he is only calling the American cardinals suggests he is calling them all to the woodshed," Groome said.

Richard Sipe, a former priest and a retired psychoanalyst who treated priests who had molested children, said it was rare for such a summons to be issued in the wake of a scandal.

Bishops and cardinals have, however, been summoned to Rome before for discussions on a variety of issues.

"This is unprecedented as far as I know," Sipe said. "I think this is an acknowledgment of how very unique this situation is. This is a major, major crisis in the church, very significant."

Groome said he thought the Vatican should not limit the meeting to U.S. cardinals.

"It's not just an American problem," he said.

Allegations against priests

The pedophilia scandal has received far more attention in the U.S. media than it has in Europe.

In one case, 86 plaintiffs are suing the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston over sex abuse allegations against John Geoghan, a defrocked priest convicted earlier this year on charges of fondling a 10-year-old boy a decade ago.

Boston church officials also are accused of having been aware of numerous child sex abuse allegations against another priest, the Rev. Paul Shanley, and of simply moving him from parish to parish instead of defrocking him or removing him from ministry.

In New York, six priests from the Archdiocese of New York were asked to leave their assignments in April because of sexual misconduct allegations from their past.

And in Florida, Bishop Anthony J. O'Connell resigned in March from the Diocese of Palm Beach after admitting he sexually abused a former seminarian in the 1970s.

-- Rome Bureau Chief Alessio Vinci, Correspondent Jason Carroll and Producer Fran Fifis contributed to this report.




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