April 22, 2002
NEW YORK (AP) - The New York Archdiocese distanced itself Monday from a high-ranking official's sermon that blamed the Catholic Church's child-molestation scandal on gay priests and American immorality.

Monsignor Eugene Clark, who was filling in Sunday for Cardinal Edward Egan at St. Patrick's Cathedral, gave the sermon without consulting Egan, the archdiocese said.

"He was speaking for himself," archdiocese spokesman Joe Zwilling said. Clark, the rector of St. Patrick's, called the United States "probably the most immoral country in the Western Hemisphere,'' labeled homosexuality "a disorder" and said that admitting gay students into seminaries was a "grave mistake," the Daily News reported Monday.

As he spoke, priests throughout the archdiocese read parishioners a letter from Egan apologizing for any mishandling of sex abuse cases involving priests. The cardinal struck a conciliatory tone in person Sunday when he asked a Bronx congregation to pray for him as he left for Rome to discuss the scandal with fellow cardinals and Pope John Paul II.

Clark estimated that 3 percent of U.S. clergymen have a tendency toward abusing children that is aggravated by sexual images in popular entertainment. "So if the 3 percent were touched by that, we ask God to forgive them for it. We ask God to help remedy a situation which might be way beyond the control of the Holy Father and apostles," Clark said.

The monsignor did not return calls seeking comment Monday. Zwilling said he had been unable to reach him.

Clark celebrates Mass at St. Patrick's when Egan visits other churches. He is not expected to consult the cardinal about the content of his homily, Zwilling said.

"I don't know if the cardinal even knew about Monsignor Clark's remarks before he departed for Rome yesterday," Zwilling said." He certainly did not comment on them to me."

Clark is known in the archdiocese as a staunch conservative, unafraid to criticize the church hierarchy, said Tom Reese, editor in chief of the Catholic weekly America.

"It's clear that Monsignor Clark is speaking for himself and is expressing the views of very conservative Catholics," Reese said.

Catholic League president William Donohue said he would be surprised if Egan disagreed with Clark's statements, which Donohue called long overdue.

Clark's Sunday sermon echoed, in part, the Vatican's first public statement about the scandal. The pope's chief spokesman told The New York Times last month that the church needed to prevent gays from becoming priests.

Marianne Duddy, executive director of the gay Catholic advocacy group Dignity/USA, called Clark's homily "very irresponsible."

"I think that most Catholics see this for what it is - an attempt to deflect attention away from the horrible mishandling of the situation by church officials and the decades of coverup," she said.

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