1-Strike Plan Splits Group
April 25, 2002
By LAURIE GOODSTEIN
New York Times
ROME, Thursday, April 25 - Nine years ago at a meeting in
New Orleans, Roman Catholic bishops in the United States
met to discuss a national policy to stop priests from
sexually abusing children.
"It should be that once a priest is found guilty he is
out," Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua of Philadelphia said.
On Wednesday, after an emergency two-day meeting in the
Vatican intended to show the world that the church is
moving decisively to prevent sexual abuse by clergymen,
Cardinal Bevilacqua and other top church leaders said they
still did not agree on whether to impose such unconditional
punishment on all priests who have molested minors.
There were high expectations leading into this unusual
Vatican summit, some of which were realized: Pope John Paul
II read a letter saying he felt the pain of the victims;
the United States bishops committed themselves to passing a
mandatory national policy to address sexual abuse; and
Cardinal Bernard F. Law of Boston stood before his brothers
and said they might not all be in this quagmire if he had
not reassigned pedophiles to ministries where they had
access to children.
But on one crucial question, the American cardinals and
bishops meeting here with officials of the Holy See drew
distinctions that could further confuse the public and
inflame victims of sexual abuse, say some church experts
and victims' advocates.
While they plan to enforce "zero tolerance" in all future
cases of abuse, it is not retroactive. In addition, while
the cardinals' final communiqué said that they would ask
the Vatican for permission to more easily defrock
"notorious" priests who were "guilty of the serial,
predatory, sexual abuse of minors," those priests who
sexually abused a child once or twice might continue in
ministry if there had been no subsequent complaints.
Bishop Wilton D. Gregory, president of the United States
Conference of Catholic Bishops, said that when the bishops
meet in June in Dallas to hammer out their national
policies, the approach of "one strike and you're out" for a
sexually abusive priest will be controversial.
Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, archbishop of Washington,
said that if a priest abused a minor 30 years ago, "and
since then has never had any trouble and the people know
and they say, `He's a good man, we don't have to get rid of
him, we'll monitor him, we'll take care of him,' do I say,
`You're out?' I've got to pray about it."
But David Clohessy, director of the Survivors Network of
Those Abused by Priests, called this stance "more arbitrary
"It attempts to minimize the problem by focusing on the
egregious abusers, when all abuse is egregious," Mr.
The Catholic leaders' split decision rests on their
analysis of the problem, which they suggested in news
conferences and in the documents they released on Wednesday
night. They made a point of noting, correctly, that very
few of the cases involved priests preying on young
children, abusers they called "true pedophiles." Instead,
they noted, the bulk of the cases involved priests preying
That observation can lead in one of two directions: one
interpretation, taken mostly by church liberals, is that
celibacy is driving repressed priests to act out with
children; the other view, taken mostly by conservatives, is
that there are too many gay priests, and too many of them
are acting out with children.
"The left doesn't like celibacy, the right doesn't like
homosexuality, so off we go to the races," Cardinal Francis
E. George of Chicago said in an interview on Tuesday.
"Everybody has an agenda."
Revoking celibacy was not, and never could have been,
discussed in these meetings - not with these cardinals,
with these Holy See officials and with this pope. Although
Cardinal Roger M. Mahony said last week in Los Angeles that
he intended to push church leaders to discuss allowing
priests to marry, he says he never brought it up at these
Sylvia Poggioli, the longtime Rome correspondent for
National Public Radio, said wryly, "There's something about
the air here in Rome that they seem to lose their voices
when they come here."
The only discussion about celibacy in this meeting was
about the need to more effectively teach priests to stick
"We will propose that the bishops of the United States make
every effort to implement the challenge of the Holy Father
that the present crisis must lead to a holier priesthood, a
holier episcopate and a holier Church,"' the final
communiqué from the American cardinals said.
But the prelates said they did devote time to discussing
whether a disproportionate number of gays in the seminary
and priesthood were part of the problem. Among the remedies
they decided on is for the Vatican to dispatch what is
called an "apostolic visitation," a team that would inspect
American Catholic seminaries, giving "special attention to
their admission requirements an the need for them to teach
Catholic moral doctrine in its integrity."
The Vatican conducted such an inspection about 15 years
ago, and since then American seminaries tightened their
admissions requirements and implemented extensive
psychological testing of candidates.
Asking for another apostolic visitation now is an
indication that the church's hierarchy may try to root out
gay priests and seminarians, said Eugene Kennedy, professor
emeritus of psychology at Loyola University in Chicago and
author of "The Unhealed Wound: The Church and Human
"Blaming homosexuals is becoming like the anti-Semitism of
the Catholic Church," Dr. Kennedy said. "They are raising
it although there is no proof that there is any connection
between homosexuality and child abuse. And there are many
fine homosexual priests."
The cardinals ultimately reached out directly to their
priests, drafting a letter that said, "We regret that
episcopal oversight has not been able to preserve the
Church from this scandal."
There are about 46,000 priests in the United States, and
nearly 62 million parishioners, or laypeople. The cardinals
said in news conferences that they intended to include
laypeople in any solution, and mentioned that in the future
they would invite them to serve on each diocese's sexual
abuse review boards.
But in their final communique, there was no mention of the
review boards or of the laypeople. Asked about the omission
in their final late-night news conference at the Vatican,
the cardinals admitted that somehow, they had inadvertently
left the laypeople out.