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Catholic Bishops Adopt Statement of Sexual Misconduct by Priests

By Frank P.L. Somerville
The Baltimore Sun


Goaded by widespread publicity of priests' sexual abuse of children, the nation's Roman Catholic bishops adopted their first public statement on the problem Thursday, calling on dioceses to deal with allegations promptly and "as openly as possible."

The resolution, passed unanimously by a voice vote, grew out of a meeting between Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles and sex-abuse victims who demonstrated Monday in front of the Omni Shoreham Hotel here as the National Conference of Catholic Bishops began its four days of annual deliberations.

Thursday's resolution was immediately criticized by three national organizations of priests' victims as not going far enough. They had called for a strict and uniform policy on pedophile priests to be mandated in every Catholic diocese, claiming that in some dioceses such priests are still being shielded from prosecution.

The bishops endorsed a suggestion by Bishop John J. McRaith of Owensboro, Ky., that the bishops create a national task force "to deal with difficult situations" involving sex abuse.

"This task force would be most effective if survivors are included in its membership," the group said.

Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk, concluding his three-year term as president of the bishops' conference, predicted that any diocese without an announced policy to deal with the pedophile issue would be "putting one together sooner rather than later." But he also said that the National Conference of Catholic Bishops did not have the authority to require every diocese to follow the same policy.

"I understand their urgency," Pilarczyk said of the sex abuse victims, but he said that criminal statutes vary from state to state and must be dealt with individually.

The bishops' resolution, prepared in executive session, was an adaptation of a statement made by Pilarczyk in June at the University of Notre Dame after closed-door discussions by the bishops of the sex-abuse issue.

The total of the financial settlements and other costs to the church in the United States over the last decade related to priests' abuse of children has been estimated at $400 million.

"I am humiliated and embarrassed that priests are involved in this kind of behavior, and we can't tolerate it," Pilarczyk said Thursday.

After Monday's meeting with 10 men and women who had been sexually abused as children by priests, Mahony told the conference that the victims were "people who bear the scars of pain, hurt, alienation and abandonment ... who are now pleading to be heard, to be recognized, and to be a part of the healing and rebuilding which our church needs."