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US Catholic Bishops Discuss Sexual Abuse Policy - 2002-06-13

Roman Catholic bishops from throughout the United States have opened a meeting in Dallas, at which they are discussing a nationwide policy on dealing with priests who sexually abuse young people. Bishops opened Thursday's session with an apology, and then heard from several victims of abuse.

The president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops opened the meeting in Dallas Thursday, calling the church's crisis over sex abuse by priests perhaps the greatest crisis the church has faced. Bishop Wilton Gregory of Belleville, Illinois apologized to victims of abuse, and to all Catholics whose faith has been shaken by the scandal.

"How can we bishops bear to look you parents in the eye and tell you that your children are your greatest treasure if we do not also treasure, love and protect them?", he said.

Several victims of abuse spoke to the roughly 300 bishops and cardinals assembled for the meeting. One woman from Alaska told the bishops her abuser warned her not to tell her mother what had happened. Craig Martin of Minnesota tearfully spoke of being abused by a priest who took him on a fishing trip years ago. In telling the story, Mr. Martin referred to himself as "John Doe," instead of using his real name.

"John remembers the motel that night, with the priest, but hardly anything else. John has no idea how he got home," he said. "It is only 35 years later that John is starting to remember what happened that horrible night."

Since January, at least 250 of the nation's 46-thousand priests have resigned or been suspended over sexual misconduct claims. Four bishops have also resigned, though none specifically because of how they handled abusive priests.

The bishop's committee on sex abuse last week recommended removing from the ministry those who could abuse children in the future, but suggested that some priests with just a single case of abuse in their past might be able to remain on the job if they've received treatment and evaluation. Many bishops and outside groups want all abusive priests removed, even for past incidents. Any policy adopted here in Dallas is subject to approval by the Vatican.