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Cardinal Says Abuse Rules Tougher

Apr 29, 2002 | AP The embattled head of Boston's Roman Catholic Church told parishioners he has toughened his archdiocese's stance toward priests accused of sex abuse, though a national policy won't be enacted until a bishops' meeting in June.

Cardinal Bernard Law said he had strengthened the local policy for dealing with abusive priests even before last week's Vatican summit with American cardinals.

``We were not there to make decisions,'' Law said of the Rome meeting.

Meanwhile, Law is coming under new criticism for a legal defense alleging that plaintiffs in a lawsuit against him were partly responsible for an allegedly abusive relationship between the Rev. Paul Shanley and a boy. The alleged abuse began in 1983, when the boy was 6.

In response to the lawsuit by Gregory Ford and his parents, Law said: `` ... the negligence of the Plaintiffs contributed to cause the injury or damage,'' The Boston Globe reported Monday.

The Fords' lawyer, Roderick MacLeish Jr., said he found the cardinal's claim ``appalling.''

``There is no set of circumstances under which a 6-year-old child could be blamed for something like this,'' MacLeish told the Globe.

Telephone calls seeking comment from MacLeish and the archdiocese were not returned to The Associated Press.

On Sunday, Law told parishioners during Mass at Boston's Cathedral of the Holy Cross that the nation's bishops will discuss a binding sexual abuse policy at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' general meeting in Dallas beginning June 13. Now, each diocese is autonomous and decides its own approach to molestation claims.

Law noted that regardless of national action, he has already instituted a ``zero tolerance'' policy for the archdiocese. Twelve archdiocese priests have been suspended since January following allegations of abuse.

To enter the cathedral, parishioners had to make their way through about two dozen protesters, police and the media.

``They don't see the good side of Cardinal Law,'' said Brother James Curren of the Little Brothers of St. Francis in Roxbury, a Catholic order. ``A lot of people have made mistakes in judgment. No one defends the priests who committed sins.''

During the short statement, Law did not address calls for his resignation. ``These are not easy days to serve in the pastoral role that is mine,'' Law said.

``All of us are wounded healers,'' he said. ``And when we remember that, we are able to be the people that we should be. ... When we are not that, we degenerate into anger and division. And that's not who we are. That's not who God calls us to be.''

Law also called for a special day of prayer about the sexual abuse crisis, to be held during the Pentecost celebrations, which start May 10.

Appearing on Sunday news shows, U.S. cardinals who attended the Vatican meeting indicated there still was no agreement on whether clergymen accused of sexual abuse should be expelled from the priesthood.

Speaking on ``Fox News Sunday,'' Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington said he supported ousting any priest accused in the future but said the cardinals were divided about whether the policies should apply to past allegations.

Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, who appeared on several shows, said there still needs to be some discussion on the ``one-strike-and-you're-out'' approach. On NBC's ``Meet the Press,'' he said ``mandated sentences'' may not be the answer and that cardinals needed some discretion.

The sex abuse scandal began enveloping the church in January after revelations that the Archdiocese of Boston had shuttled now-defrocked priest John Geoghan from parish to parish despite repeated allegations that he was a pedophile.

The calls for Law's resignation increased this month with the release of 1,600 archdiocese documents that reveal Shanley's involvement with the North American Man-Boy Love Association.

Law has said such demands were not discussed at the Vatican meeting and, through a spokeswoman, has denied reports that he might be transferred to Rome.

In other developments:

A priest in Tampa, Fla., was suspended while diocesan officials investigate two allegations of sexual misconduct by the priest 14 years ago. The Rev. Robert Morris, pastor of St. Mary Catholic Church, denied the accusations.

In Alma, Mich., a priest resigned a week after admitting to members of two parishes that he engaged in ``inappropriate sexual behavior'' more than 16 years ago. Also, the Diocese of Grand Rapids announced that a priest resigned after accusations of inappropriate sexual contact with a teen 23 years ago.

In Ohio, a 61-year-old priest resigned after Cincinnati Archdiocese officials confronted him with a report that he sexually abused a minor several years ago.

In California, four Roman Catholic priests from the San Bernardino Diocese left their parishes over the weekend amid allegations they molested children. The Los Angeles Archdiocese also turned over to police the name of a 69-year-old priest forced to retire earlier this year because of allegations he molested four boys in the 1960s and 1970s.

The Archdiocese of Dubuque, Iowa, relieved a priest of his duties over an allegation of sexual misconduct that happened about 30 years ago. The priest admitted inappropriate behavior when confronted, said James Barta, vicar general for the archdiocese.

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