Following a meeting earlier this week at the Vatican between U.S. cardinals and the pope, George said sanctions against priests who violate celibacy and chastity vows should distinguish between sexual predators who prey on young children and the priest who gets drunk and engages in a sex act "with a 17- or 16-year-old young woman who returns his affection."
"He's saying that there's a difference between sexual abuse of a young child and a priest getting a little drunk and having sex with a 16- or 17-year-old girl," Catherine Caporusso Hartman, vice president of the Chicago chapter of the National Organization for Women, told the Chicago Sun-Times Friday. "He's trying to minimize things when he should be showing that he takes all of this seriously. Now he's trying to make a subset of sexual abuse not as serious as another."
In calling for George's resignation, Hartman said when it comes to statutory rape laws, George "doesn't seem to understand why there are stiffer penalties in case of a person in authority like a priest."
The cardinals were summoned to the Vatican to talk about ways of dealing with pedophile priests in light of recent revelations about defrocked Boston priest John Goeghan. In the past, the church has shipped problem clerics from diocese to diocese, in many instances without revealing the nature of the problem behind the transfer.
The scandal prompted Massachusetts to pass legislation that would require church officials to tell police about suspicions of clergy abusing children. Similar legislation is under consideration in New York and Colorado and lawmakers in Illinois, Wisconsin and Vermont have indicated they may consider similar action. Grand jury investigations of priests are under way or planned in Philadelphia, Cincinnati and Long Island, N.Y.
In making his remarks about Geoghan, whom George described as a "moral monster," the cardinal also acknowledged a man engaging in sex with an underage girl is still a crime. But, he said, that when it comes to reforming one's life, it's "different" for the serial sexual abuser than it is for someone who has made just one mistake.
In a telephone interview from Rome, George told WMAQ-TV he understands why some people are "upset with me."
"If I really did think that it didn't matter about abusing young women, I should resign," he said. "I don't think I said that. I know I didn't mean it."