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US cardinals welcome zero tolerance of sex abuse

As America's Catholic leaders met at the end of a week dominated by unprecedented discussions on sexual abuse by priests, Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua of Philadelphia insisted they have embraced a "zero tolerance" policy for clergymen who have molested children.

"All of the cardinals are agreed on zero tolerance, and by that I mean that we all are agreed that no priest guilty of even one act of sexual abuse of a minor will function in any ecclesial ministry or any capacity in our dioceses," said Bevilacqua, who hosted seven other US cardinals at a benefit dinner on Friday.

Other cardinals, including Edward Egan of New York and Francis George of Chicago, have said they aren't sure the pope called for a "one-strike-and-you're-out" policy when he met with US cardinals this week.

On Friday, George continued to question whether one policy should fit all cases.

"But if I am in a clear minority, and I suspect I am, then I will go along with it," he said.

As they left Rome, the cardinals agreed they would recommend a process to defrock any priest who has become "notorious and is guilty of the serial, predatory sexual abuse of minors."

No single cardinal or bishop can enact a national policy, since each diocese is autonomous. The US Conference of Catholic Bishops, at its meeting in June, is expected to vote on whether to approve a national policy that will be binding in every diocese.

Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington said the church may create an advisory panel of experts to help bishops devise new policies for handling sex abuse cases. He said bishops in every diocese have committees of lay people to advise the church on social issues.

Eight cardinals were in Philadelphia to attend a $A1900-a-plate fund-raiser for Catholic University in Washington. All but one had met with the pope this week at the two-day meeting at the Vatican on the sex abuse problem.


28 Apr 2002