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Spotlight Report

Cardinal says Vatican talks to include wider issues

By Charles M. Sennott, Globe Staff, 4/20/2002

ROME - An American cardinal who will take part in next week's Vatican meeting to address the church sexual-abuse scandals said yesterday that wider issues, including the teaching of celibacy and the screening of seminarians, would be addressed at the gathering.

''It is my understanding, my hope that these issues will also be presented,'' Cardinal J. Francis Stafford, who heads the Vatican's Pontifical Council for the Laity in Rome, said in describing the agenda for the extraordinary and hastily called meeting Tuesday and Wednesday.

How seminarians are psychologically screened and how they are instructed in understanding sexuality as they prepare for a chaste life are issues that Stafford said are of ''grave concern'' and ''really at the heart'' of the crisis.

Stafford, who discussed celibacy in remarks published yesterday in The New York Times, said the church should rely more on lay members - men and women - in addressing the crisis and reaching solutions. Psychologists and lawyers who are Catholics have ''great contributions to offer,'' he added.

Another American cardinal, Roger M. Mahony of Los Angeles, said in an interview broadcast Thursday by several Los Angeles television stations that he would push even further to open a discussion of whether priests should be permitted to marry and whether women should be ordained.

Mahony did not say he endorsed changing centuries of church doctrine and ending the celibacy requirement, but said: ''I'm a proponent of the discussion. I want to hear a lot more.''

The two cardinals' views illustrate a critical part of the political mix at next week's meeting: the competing agendas of the cardinals and contrasting opinions on how the church should deal with the crisis.

Relatively liberal cardinals such as Mahony may indeed push for an agenda that includes discussing the ordination of women. But the powerful and conservative authorities presiding over the meeting with Pope John Paul II - including Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos and Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger - may not not necessarily entertain such requests, observers said.

John Paul emphatically has closed the door on all proposals that women be allowed to become priests or any suggestion that the priestly vow of celibacy be changed.

Marco Politi, a veteran Vatican correspondent for the Italian daily newspaper La Repubblica, said: ''All of these issues may be woven together, but the focus next week will be how to work out binding guidelines for American bishops in dealing with sexual abuse by the clergy. There may be Americans who want to open up a lot of topics, but the Vatican will refocus the meeting to the issue at hand.''

Within that focus, there are two main issues, Monsignor Francis Maniscalco, a spokesman for the US bishops, told the Associated Press.

The priority will be for the American cardinals to adopt a uniform policy on reporting sexual offenses to law enforcement authorities. Currently, such policies differ among American dioceses.

The American cardinals will be looking for guidance from the Vatican on how to establish that policy in advance of a June conference of bishops at which such guidelines may be adopted for all US dioceses.

The other central issue will be developing a coherent strategy on dealing with sex-offending priests judged by psychologists to have been rehabilitated.

There is a sharp division among bishops about whether any sex offender should be allowed to continue as a priest, even after treatment. Some bishops have decreed that no sex offender can ever come back. Maniscalco said several bishops would propose a policy of ''one strike and you're out'' for priests implicated in sex-abuse cases.

It was widely reported in the Italian media that the Vatican and US church were planning separate daily briefings, an American-style public relations offensive to counter a widely held impression among American Catholics that the Vatican and the pope have been slow to confront the devastating crisis in the American church.

Correspondent Jason Horowitz contributed to this report.

Sennott can be reached at

This story ran on page A11 of the Boston Globe on 4/20/2002.
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