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Vatican pace on abuse worries O'Malley

Page 2 of 3 -- In many instances, the cases involve allegations too old to be prosecuted by civil authorities, so the church must decide on its own whether the allegations are credible.

According to the church's rules for handling abuse allegations, a diocese that receives an allegation of abuse against a priest is supposed to investigate the allegation, and, if there appears to be sufficient evidence supporting the allegation, to notify the Vatican and temporarily suspend the priest from ministry.

The Vatican can decide the case itself or send it back to the diocese to be judged in a local church court, but lawyers and church officials say that in many cases the Vatican has not yet taken either step.

It is not clear how many abuse cases the Vatican has pending, but in January, Bishop Wilton D. Gregory, president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, said that about 700 priests and deacons had been temporarily removed from ministry over the previous two years a result of abuse allegations.

In Boston, several cases already have been resolved, in most instances because the evidence against the priests was either overwhelmingly strong or extraordinarily weak.

Since 2002, the archdiocese has removed from ministry approximately 30 priests accused of sexually abusing minors. The archdiocese has since restored to ministry three priests after determining the allegations were not credible, while this year the Vatican has defrocked three Boston priests facing multiple allegations.

The remaining cases have proven more complex. The Vatican has to decide whether the case should be judged in Rome or in Boston, and in many cases it has not yet made that decision.

Although 162 archdiocesan priests were accused of abusing minors from 1950 to 2003, according to the archdiocese, most of those priests had died, retired, or left the priesthood before 2002, when the abuse crisis exploded.

Also in the interview yesterday, O'Malley said he expects to continue to speak out on political issues, but not on particular candidates, as the presidential campaign unfolds. Thus far, he has been particularly outspoken in his opposition to same-sex marriage, which became legal in Massachusetts in May.

O'Malley expressed disappointment with both political parties, saying, "We're trying to teach clearly what the church's position is, and it's very difficult when the popular culture wants to frame the questions in an entirely different way.

"And, of course as Americans, it's always the individual's personal rights that seem to trump everything else, even other people's right to life or the rights of a community to safeguard an institution which is so primordial as marriage," he said. "And it's complicated, too, by the fact that neither political party really embodies the social doctrine of the Catholic church. . . . So that creates a certain tension."   Continued...

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