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US Catholic Leader, Pope Discuss Sex Abuse Allegations - 2002-04-13

The head of the U.S. Catholic bishops conference, Wilton Gregory, said the pope was deeply affected by the sex abuse scandal involving church members in the U.S.. He said calls for the resignation of Boston Cardinal Bernard Law had not been discussed.

Bishop Wilton Gregory has been holding talks at the Vatican for a week. His meetings come at a time when the U.S. Catholic church has been facing serious criticism for failing to respond adequately to charges of sexual misconduct by priests.

The president of the U.S. Catholic bishops Saturday refused to give details of his meetings at the Vatican but admitted that the sex abuse scandal featured prominently in his talks. He said: "There was considerable discussion about the current crisis in the United States surrounding the sexual abuse of children and young people by clergy."

The bishop said the pope told him "to tell the bishops in the United States and the Church in the United States that the pope was solidly behind them."

The U.S. Catholic leader said calls for the resignation of Boston Cardinal Bernard Law had not been discussed. Cardinal Law, who Friday declared he would continue to head the Boston archdiocese, has faced growing criticism since he acknowledged that he transferred a priest accused of sexual misconduct to another parish. Bishop Gregory said Cardinal Law would have to work to gain back his credibility. "That's a great challenge that lies ahead of him," he added.

The bishop also said he felt the scandal would not be a "perpetual wound." However he added: "I am not so naďve to believe that it will pass quickly". Bishop Gregory said the pope had communicated a desire to help the Catholic Church in the United States "at this difficult moment."

He said that U.S. bishops would meet in June and they would try to agree on a policy to deal with sex abuse allegations expected to include the handing over of priests accused of pedophilia to the civil authorities.