Cardinals Arrive in Vatican City
Summoned by Pope: Religious Leaders Will Discuss Abuse Scandal

The Associated Press
April 22, 2002

VATICAN CITY — Storm clouds roiled the sky above the dome of St. Peter's Basilica on Sunday afternoon, perhaps reflecting the mood inside the Vatican as American cardinals began arriving here for an extraordinary meeting to discuss the sex-abuse scandal rocking the Roman Catholic church in the United States.

Last week, Pope John Paul II summoned the 13 American cardinals, including Chicago's Cardinal Francis George, to the Vatican to account for how they've handled cases of priest pedophiles in the past and how they should deal with them in the future.

The meetings Tuesday and Wednesday between Vatican officials and the American cardinals will be held behind closed doors in the Apostolic Palace, away from the media glare. Vatican and U.S. bishops' representatives have promised to brief the American media, which arrived in droves Sunday, twice daily during the two-day meeting.

A last-minute mea culpa from New York's Cardinal Edward Egan, a clandestine trip to the Vatican in advance of the meeting by Boston's embattled Cardinal Bernard Law, and comments from the pope himself Saturday provide hints about the possible tenor of this week's discussions.

Egan and Law

In a letter Saturday to New York parishes, Egan, a native of Oak Park, apologized for mistakes made in handling allegations of abuse in the New York Archdiocese and the Diocese of Bridgeport, Conn., where Egan served as bishop.

"If, in hindsight, we ... discover that mistakes have been made as regards prompt removal of priests and assistance to victims, I am deeply sorry," Egan wrote.

Before Saturday's letter, which was read at Sunday Masses across New York, Egan had adamantly defended his handling of sex-abuse cases. Law reportedly traveled to the Vatican last week to meet with church leaders, during which the subject of his possible resignation was discussed.

Since the most recent clergy sex-abuse scandal surfaced in Boston in January, public demand for Law's resignation has steadily grown. In a statement released last week after his return from Rome, Law said, "The fact that my resignation has been proposed as necessary was part of my presentation."

Law, who has refused to step down, said that Vatican officials encouraged him to remain in his Boston position.

Celibacy not negotiable

In an address to Nigerian bishops in Rome on Saturday, Pope John Paul II made his most explicit remarks about the issue of clergy abuse, saying allegations needed to be carefully investigated.

"Behavior which might give scandal must be carefully avoided ... and you yourselves must diligently investigate accusations of such behavior, taking firm steps to correct it where it is found to exist," the pope said.

While Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahoney and other church leaders have said priestly celibacy would be among the issues discussed at this week's meetings, the pontiff made it clear celibacy was not negotiable.

"The value of celibacy as a complete gift of self to the Lord and his church must be carefully safeguarded," he said.

George's plans

George, who arrived Sunday for a previously scheduled meeting of the Vatican board that oversees English translations of the Roman liturgy, is staying at a private residence within Vatican City and could not be reached for comment.

Before leaving for Rome, George said he expects the Chicago Archdiocese's decade-old policy for handling sexual-abuse allegations, widely considered exemplary and cutting-edge, may be used as the model for establishing permanent policy for all American dioceses.

Tourists' opinions

The sex-abuse scandal rocking the American church was not far from the minds of American tourists who wandered among the alcoves of Catholicism's most sacred shrine Sunday afternoon as worshippers filed out of 5 p.m. Mass.

"I'm grieving over the fact that children have been harmed and that God has been misrepresented," said John Swango, a marriage and family therapist from California, vacationing in Rome with his wife, Lisa.

"We're praying for reconciliation and healing. I think there needs to be accountability, and I think it is a tragedy that there hasn't been accountability, that there's been a weak response," said Swango, a Protestant. "I see it as an addiction, that they are acting out compulsively sexually with children, and they need to be treated as broken, sick people instead of just being moved around."

Lisa Swango said priests who abuse should be removed.

"While I believe there's complete forgiveness, there needs to be a removal of people from leadership ... as a clear demonstration that this is not what God is."

Eileen Clark, a Roman Catholic Californian who lives in Japan, said being at the Vatican helped her focus on the meaning of her faith, rather than the church's current troubles.

"I sat there and I watched the priests while they were doing Mass, and it never even entered my mind," Clark said of the sex scandal. "You walk in there, and you just feel God. You feel the presence of Jesus Christ, and it kind of takes away from anything that is bad."

While she is skeptical that the recent spate of new allegations are all genuine, Clark said priests should fault on the side of caution.

"If I were a priest, I would never be alone with a child. I would always make sure there was always someone with me," she said. "And that's a shame. It's a shame to have to think that way."


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