Hot topics on tap for cardinals at Vatican

By DAVE HASKELL  |  April 19, 2002 at 10:04 AM
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BOSTON, April 19 (UPI) -- When American cardinals meet at the Vatican next week, more than just child sexual abuse by clergy reportedly will be on the table for discussion.

Meanwhile, for the first time, a member of the famed Kennedy political family has publicly criticized Boston Cardinal Bernard Law's handling of the church's sex scandals.

Rep. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I., whose uncle John F. Kennedy was the United State's first Catholic president, also said priests should be prosecuted for their criminal acts.

"Cardinal Law's actions were inexcusable and the church is going to have to come up with some really significant reforms in order to get the message across that they have felt the weight of this crisis," Kennedy said in Friday's Boston Herald.

Kennedy, the son of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., added that "these actions that these priests took were criminal and they have to be held accountable ... in a court of law."

One reform Kennedy has pushed before is the ordination of women as priests.

The role of women in the church is one of the many subjects Law and seven other American cardinals are expected to discuss with Pope John Paul II and other officials at the Vatican, according to Friday's New York Times.

Quoting a top Vatican official, Cardinal J. Francis Stafford, the Times said the extraordinary meetings in Rome Tuesday and Wednesday will cover the sexual abuse scandals, celibacy, screening gay candidates for the priesthood, as well as the role of women in the church.

Stafford said, however, the ordination of women is definitely not on the table.

"Rome can't be open to changing the faith," he said. "That's clearly a part of the faith and we can't, we don't have the power to change it even if we'd like to."

Los Angeles Cardinal Roger M. Mahony told the Times he plans to push the church to consider changing centuries of doctrine to permit priests to marry and women to be ordained.

"It's not a panacea that you have married clergy or women clergy," Mahoney said. "At this point, I'm a proponent of the discussion. I want to hear a lot more."

Mahoney, meanwhile, in Los Angeles on Thursday, announced he is creating a new investigative panel to handle complaints of sex abuse by clergy. The panel will be led by lay church members, not priests, and would include a victim of such abuse.

In another extraordinary development Thursday, a grand jury investigating child abuse allegations involving priests has summoned Cleveland Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk and the chancellor of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, Christopher Armstrong, to testify.

Pilarczyk was believed to be the first archbishop nationwide to be subpoenaed to appear before a grand jury.

Last month, Pilarczyk revealed 20 archdiocesan employees had been accused of sexual abuse of teenagers in the last two decades and that fewer than five, including one priest, were currently employed by the church. But Pilarczyk refused to identify the alleged abusers, adding that none currently is working with children.

In another case, a St. Paul, Minn., attorney filed a third suit Thursday claiming the Rev. Anthony J. O'Connell, former bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Palm Beach, Fla., sexually abused a child.

The unidentified plaintiff said the abuse started when he was a child and extended into adulthood.

Attorney Jeffrey Anderson said O'Connell paid his client thousands of dollars to keep quiet about their relationship beginning in 1994, when the man reported the relationship to Bishop Raymond Boland of Kansas City.

The suit named the Vatican, O'Connell and the dioceses of Knoxville, Palm Beach, Kansas City and Jefferson City, Mo. It claims wrongdoing under the RICO act, a racketeering law usually used in criminal actions against organized crime. By definition it names the church as a criminal enterprise for the alleged cover-ups.

In Boston, a Jesuit priest who has since died and his supervisors have been named in a new sexual abuse lawsuit. The suit alleges the Rev. George V. McCabe molested three boys while working as a parish priest in the Boston Archdiocese in Revere, in the early 1970s.

The suit also alleges the Rev. William G. Guindon and the Rev. Richard T. Cleary were negligent in their supervision of McCabe.

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