Skip to main content /US /US

Cardinals still working on priest abuse policy

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Less than a week after discussing the church's sexual abuse scandal with Pope John Paul II, U.S. Roman Catholic cardinals Sunday defended their decision not to adopt a "zero tolerance" policy against priests accused of abusing minors.

At the close of the Vatican meeting Tuesday, U.S. church leaders issued a communique that condemned such abuse. But the statement fell short of instituting a policy to remove men from the priesthood for a single instance of sexual abuse involving a minor.

"'Zero tolerance' is not our term; it's a term that's been given us, and, therefore, if you don't meet it, somehow you've failed," Cardinal Francis George, the archbishop of Chicago, told NBC's "Meet the Press" Sunday. "Zero tolerance in the sense that ... any possible kind of offense of this nature means ... you're ejected from the priesthood? There has to be some discussion."

Cardinals indicated Sunday that the full contingent of U.S. bishops would try to establish guidelines on handling abuse cases when they meet this June in Dallas, Texas. They also said they would also discuss whether gay men should be barred from the Catholic priesthood -- a stance advocated by some conservatives within the church.

  •  Cardinal denies settlement with alledged sex abuse victims
  • Catholicism in Crisis
  •  The pope's letter
  •  Interactive: Catholic Church faces scandal
  •  In-Depth: Crisis in the Priesthood

Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, archbishop of Washington, told "Fox News Sunday" that any policy should apply not only to priests accused of abusing minors in the future, but also those who have molested children in the past.

But McCarrick also said distinctions should be made on a case-by-case basis, citing an example of a priest who was infatuated with a 17-year-old girl 30 years ago.

"It becomes public, and the people say, 'Gee, we've known this man for 30 years, he's been fine,'" McCarrick said. "There I think I'd want to pray about it. I'd want to talk to the lay people and really get advice."

George said on CNN's "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer" that the church has successfully monitored and treated abusive priests in the past, while keeping them in priesthood.

"They live in sequestered ways, they do penance for their sins," he said. "We know where they are, they're not a threat to children."

Law pledges to expel any abusers

One of the strongest voices Sunday in favor of a "zero tolerance" policy came from one of the most embattled figures in the scandal -- Cardinal Bernard Law, the archbishop of Boston.

In January, revelations came out that Law moved former priest John Geoghan -- now in prison for molesting an 11-year-old boy -- from parish to parish even though he knew of allegations Geoghan had abused children.

Documents released earlier this month showed that the cardinal also repeatedly transferred the Rev. Paul Shanley, accused of sexually abusing 30 minors, despite numerous allegations. The revelations, as well as Law's perceived aloofness from the public and media, have fueled calls for his resignation.

During a Mass in Boston Sunday, Law said, "One allegation that is a credible allegation concerning the sexual abuse of a child would indicate to us that that person could not have an assignment in the archdiocese. As a matter of fact, no one does that we know of."

Split on gay priest issue

McCarrick and George said the ordination of gay priests will be discussed in Dallas, although they came down on different sides of the issue.

George said the "nature" of what it means to be a priest may argue against allowing gay men to serve.

"A priest is a married man: He's married to the church," George said. "If he can't see himself as a married man with a family, then he shouldn't be ordained.

"He's not an ecclesiastical bachelor. He's not an eternal boy. He is someone who is called to be a father of a family."

But McCarrick sided against a blanket ban on gay men serving as priests.

"If a person has been celibate all his life, whether he's been heterosexual or homosexual, ... I think you might want to give that person a chance," McCarrick said. "If you can live a chaste life, you can be a chaste priest."

McCarrick disputed a published report that a large segment of men now studying in Catholic seminaries are gay, saying it is "absolutely not true" because candidates undergo "psychological testing."




Back to the top