Pope John Paul II told Roman Catholic church leaders from the United States Tuesday that there is no place in the priesthood for child abusers. During a closed-door Vatican meeting on the sex scandal in the American church, the pontiff called sex abuse by priests "a crime and a sin."
The pope said he is deeply grieved by the fact that priests have caused such suffering.
Addressing leading U.S. churchmen at the start of their two-day meeting Tuesday, the pope said the abuse was by every standard wrong and rightly considered a crime by society. "People need to know," the pontiff said, "that there is no place in the priesthood and in religious life for those who would harm the young." The pope added that sex abuse is appalling in the eyes of God.
A text of his remarks was released by the Vatican. It was Pope John Paul's toughest statement yet on the sex abuse scandals rocking the Roman Catholic Church in the United States.
The pontiff issued an apology to the sexual abuse victims and their families, saying: "wherever they may be, I express my profound sense of solidarity and concern."
He then noted that scandals should not blemish the entire church. In the Pope's words, "The immense spiritual, human and social good done by the vast majority of priests and religious in the U.S. should not be forgotten."
Pope John Paul has said he believes that the abuse of the young is a grave symptom of a crisis that is affecting not only the church, but society as a whole.
He called the extraordinary meeting at very short notice after top U.S. Roman Catholic Church officials made clear the scandals were shaking the confidence of the faithful. U.S. churchmen said they would seek guidance from the Vatican as to what should be done with priests who are accused of sexual abuse.
One of the main tasks facing the cardinals is to ensure that the faithful in the United States will once again trust their priests. Cardinal Roger Mahony, archbishop of Los Angeles, commented after the meeting, "It's the strongest language I've seen about what we call at home 'zero tolerance."'
Twelve cardinals and two bishops from the United States are taking part in the extraordinary meeting. Among them is Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston, who has been strongly criticized for not taking strong action against priests accused of sexual abuse, but merely moving them to other parishes.
Despite the many calls for Cardinal Law to step down, Cardinal Francis George of Chicago said Tuesday there had been no discussions on his possible resignation.