April 03, 2005

Debate continues over pope's reaction to sex-abuse scandal


Alan Cooperman
Washington Post
Apr. 2, 2005 07:00 PM

During his long reign, Pope John Paul II apologized to Muslims for the Crusades, to Jews for anti-Semitism, to Orthodox Christians for the sacking of Constantinople, to Italians for the Vatican's associations with the Mafia and to scientists for the persecution of Galileo.

He apologized so often, in fact, that an Italian journalist compiled a book of more than 90 papal statements of contrition.

Yet the pope never apologized for the most shocking behavior that came to light on his watch: sexual abuse of children by priests and the church's attempts to hush it up. To some alleged victims, that is a puzzling omission and a deep stain on his legacy. advertisement

"I would hate to see all the good works this pope has done over his lifetime be overshadowed by this scandal. But that's what may happen," said Gary M. Bergeron, of Lowell, Mass., who says he was molested in the 1970s by Rev. Joseph Birmingham, a priest accused of abusing more than a dozen altar boys. Birmingham has since died.

John Paul's defenders contend that sexual misconduct by priests is a worldwide problem that began before he became pope in 1978. They say once it came to light, he reacted decisively. Summoning America's cardinals to the Vatican in April 2002, he declared that "there is no place in the priesthood and religious life for those who would harm the young."

Those words became the basis for the "zero tolerance" policy adopted two months later by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Over the following year, hundreds of priests resigned, retired or were suspended as the bishops pledged to remove any clergyman who had ever abused a minor.

Posted by kshaw at April 3, 2005 03:59 AM