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IN THE NEWS - April 20, 2002: US Cardinals Called to Vatican - 2002-04-19

This is Steve Ember with the VOA Special English program IN THE NEWS.

The leader of the Roman Catholic Church has called the highest level American church officials to his headquarters in Rome. Pope John Paul has called the American Cardinals to meet at the Vatican Tuesday and Wednesday. The Pope invited them to discuss reports of sexual wrongdoing by clergymen in the United States. Roman Catholic Church rules prevent its clergymen, called priests, from marrying or having sexual relations.

Thousands of people are claiming to have been sexually violated by priests. Some of the people are children or were children when the reported violations took place. The reported violations are said to have happened during the last fifty years.

The Roman Catholic Church is being accused of trying to hide the reports from the public. Critics also say church officials refused to investigate or to punish accused priests. Reports say church officials sometimes moved accused priests from one place to another where the violations continued against new victims.

The Pope’s decision to call a meeting with the Cardinals and three Vatican officials surprised many people. Pope John Paul had met last week with leaders of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. After the meeting, the bishops said the Pope planned to let the American Catholic Church deal with the reports of sexual violations on its own. However, two days later, he called for the thirteen American Cardinals to meet in Rome.

Church officials say it is rare that the Vatican calls the American Cardinals to visit as a group. The officials say it is even rarer when the meeting is planned so quickly.

Some Cardinals say they hope to discuss establishing a national church policy about reporting possible sexual violations by members of the clergy. Reports say a few Cardinals want to discuss changing church policies including the rule that priests may not marry.

One of the Cardinals called to the Vatican is facing serious criticism for how he has dealt with reported sexual violations by priests. Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston, Massachusetts, has admitted that he did not take action against a priest accused of many sexual violations. That priest reportedly sexually attacked more than one-hundred-thirty people.

The churches that Cardinal Law supervises have received hundreds of similar accusations against Boston area priests. He says that he now will give the names of all priests suspected of sexual attacks to government lawyers.

Cardinal Law also said he had spent several days in Rome meeting with Church officials including the Pope. He said he discussed the calls for his resignation. However, his statement suggested that he was not planning to resign.

This VOA Special English program, In The News, was written by Caty Weaver. This is Steve Ember.