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Abused Children's Support Group Disappointed by Vatican Meeting

The head of a nationwide support group for Americans who have been sexually abused by Catholic priests says he is disappointed by this week's meeting of American Roman Catholic leaders at the Vatican. The group was not expecting the cardinals to announce any major changes in the way the church handles priests who abuse children.

The American church leaders had talked about adopting a "zero-tolerance" policy for priests who abuse children, but at the conclusion of their meeting at the Vatican, they instead proposed something less drastic - defrocking some priests guilty of repeatedly abusing children. David Clohessy, the St. Louis-based national director of the group Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, says that is disappointing, but not surprising.

"Our fundamental concern is that church leaders continue to try to handle this internally. Fundamentally, if we have learned anything over the past 15 or 20 years of this scandal is that the abuse of children is a crime. It needs to be treated as a crime and therefore, the professionals police and prosecutors should be the ones to handle this," Mr. Clohessy said.

Mr. Clohessy says many Roman Catholics in America consider the church's sex abuse scandal a church problem, because of the way it has handled abuse cases sometimes by transferring an offending priest to another parish. But, he says the church seems to think the problem is with a few individual priests.

"Unfortunately, there was very little talk about the accountability of church leaders who knowingly transferred these men from church to church and parish to parish in spite of [their] having molested kids," David Clohessy said.

American bishops will discuss the sex abuse scandal when they meet in Dallas this June. Mr. Clohessy says the church could take steps before that to protect children, like teaching kids in Catholic schools how to recognize and report abuse. Or, he says, bishops could organize "abuse-prevention Sundays."

"And order every priest to tell parents that if they suspect abuse, whether it is by Father Jack or by Uncle Bob, that they simply must call 911 [police emergency number], that it is their Christian duty to report suspected abuse.

Mr. Clohessy says any changes to the Catholic Church's policy toward abusive priests will probably result from increased pressure by prosecutors, the media and ordinary Catholics.