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US Cardinals Begin Sex Abuse Talks in Vatican - 2002-04-23

U.S. cardinals Tuesday began two days of meetings with Roman Catholic Church officials at the Vatican to discuss sexual-abuse scandals involving American priests. Observers warn the meeting is not likely to produce a quick solution to the problem.

Pope John Paul II summoned all the American cardinals to the Vatican for unprecedented talks on the growing problem of priests involved in sex abuse in the United States. As they arrived in Rome, the cardinals emphasized the need to address the problem, urgently and firmly.

Washington Cardinal Theodore McCarrick says the Pope is troubled by the situation. He looks for the Pontiff to get personally involved.

Pope John Paul II plans to spend as much time as possible with the cardinals. Twelve of the 13 U.S. cardinals will be taking part. Top Vatican officials will join in the discussions.

The cardinals have said they are looking for Vatican support for a stronger and mandatory national policy for handling sex-abuse allegations.

According to Cardinal McCarrick, the policy should include reporting accusations of abuse to law enforcement officials and providing counseling to victims and families. He says a lay review board or response team should also be set up to help decide whether to reinstate the accused priest.

High-ranking Roman Catholic Church officials in the United States have been accused of covering up the misconduct of priests and, in some cases, of moving abusers to other parishes.

The church has had to pay millions of dollars in damages and faces more lawsuits. Dozens of priests have already been suspended or removed from their ministry.

The U.S. Bishops Conference met the Pope and Vatican, officials earlier this month, and stressed the urgent need to deal in a concrete and public way with the pain and scandal surrounding recent revelations of sexual abuse by the clergy.

Bishop Wilton Gregory, head of the U.S. Bishops conference, has tried to downplay expectations. He calls it a "preparatory meeting," emphasizing that a lot of work remains to be done.