Catholics seek bold papal action on sex abuse
By Daniel Trotta
NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. Catholics angered and demoralized by the priest sex abuse scandal say one man can help revitalize the Church with bold action: Pope Benedict.
The pope's trip to Washington and New York next week marks the first U.S. visit by a pontiff since a wave of sex abuse scandals began in 2002, provoking lawsuits that have forced dioceses to pay more than $2 billion in settlements.
Some advocates for the victims want the pope to apologize, others want him to permanently ban child molesters from the priesthood, or publicly identify them.
The Vatican has said Pope Benedict will discuss the scandal during his U.S. visit in an effort to heal wounds. Meetings with sex abuse victims are not on the pope's public schedule, but sometimes events are added at the last minute.
"In addition to apologizing, Pope Benedict and all our bishops should meet with survivors, listen to their stories, and treat them with respect and compassion," said Dan Bartley, president of Voice of the Faithful, a Boston-based group formed after the scandal erupted there.
Bartley called it "good news" that Benedict will address the issue, but the group wants more accountability and transparency from the Church.
The Church commissioned a study that found 10,667 people accused 4,392 priests of child sexual abuse from 1950 to 2002. Church leaders have said the study illustrates how serious they are about the problem, laying bare secrets while other institutions have not.
Moreover, it has changed its rules to more easily dismiss priests whenever there is a credible claim of abuse, said Sister Mary Ann Walsh, spokeswoman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Walsh could not say how many of the more than 4,000 priests were removed -- many had died or retired by the time the report came out -- but she said the pope would address the victims' suffering.
"It's very close to Holy Father's heart. He's just horrified by this crime," Walsh said.
IMAGE OF BISHOPS IMPROVING - STUDY
The Boston Globe reported in 2002 that 130 people were abused by a former priest over three decades and he was reassigned to different parishes rather than removed from contact with young boys.
The scandal grew from there, forcing Boston's Cardinal Bernard Law to resign. The Boston Archdiocese later agreed to pay up to $85 million to settle lawsuits filed by hundreds of people who said they were sexually abused by clergy.
More claims and suits led dioceses across the country to file for bankruptcy protection. Others paid settlements, including the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, which agreed to pay a record $660 million to 500 victims of sexual abuse.
The image of bishops suffered but has rebounded. A poll of U.S. Catholic adults scheduled for release on Sunday shows 72 percent are somewhat or very satisfied with their bishops, up from 58 percent in 2004, Walsh said.
Barbara Blaine, who formed the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, suspects the pope may meet with carefully selected victims in what she called a public relations gesture.
She said the Church continues to protect the identities of abusers and the bishops who know of their sins.
"The stakes are so high. Children are at risk. There's a public safety crisis still in America today," Blaine said. "We need something bold from the pope and we sure hope it will come during his visit."
(Editing by Stacey Joyce)