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US Roman Catholic Leaders, Vatican Officials Hold Talks

Leading American Roman Catholic leaders and Vatican officials are holding a special meeting in the Vatican this week. The extraordinary gathering was called by the Pope to discuss the sex abuse scandals that have been rocking the American Roman Catholic Church.

U.S. cardinals and other top church officials will be discussing how to deal with priests involved in cases of sexual abuse. They are seeking guidance from the Vatican as to whether such priests should immediately be defrocked and whether they should be handed over to the civilian authorities.

Twelve of 13 American cardinals will be attending the special meeting. One, Cardinal James Hickey, is too frail to attend. Pope John Paul II, who has been seriously affected by the sex scandals in the United States, will address the start of the meeting and plans to spend as much time with the cardinals as possible.

The U.S. Catholic Church has been under fire for some time for its handling of allegations of sex abuse by priests. High-ranking Catholic Church officials in the United States have been accused of covering up the misconduct of priests and, in some cases, moving abusers to other parishes to cover up the problem.

The scandal has put some U.S. Catholic leaders in a difficult position, including Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston, who will be attending the special meeting.

Cardinal Law appeared uneasy as he arrived in Rome on Monday. He said he hoped the talks at the Vatican would set a new course for coping with the crisis. He said the crisis involving the clergy and the sexual abuse of minors "is a very serious issue undermining the mission of the church."

The meeting is also likely to address such other issues as priestly celibacy and homosexuality.

According to the president of the U.S. Bishops Conference, Wilton Gregory, the main task facing U.S. pastors is regaining the trust and confidence of their faithful and convincing Catholics that the church is committed to the safety of their children.