April 19, 2002

VATICAN CITY (AP) - American cardinals meeting next week over the sex abuse scandal are looking for guidance from the Vatican on a range of issues, including a proposed policy of ``one strike and you're out'' for priests implicated in sex abuse cases, a U.S. church official said Friday.

With the American church engulfed in the scandal, Pope John Paul II summoned U.S. cardinals for extraordinary meetings Tuesday and Wednesday to discuss the situation.

American churchmen who met with the pope last week ``gave him a sense of urgency,'' said Monsignor Francis Maniscalco, a spokesman for the U.S. bishops.

He said the cardinals have two main issues in mind: a single policy for sex-offending priests judged by psychologists to have been rehabilitated and a uniform policy on reporting sexual offenses, which differs from state to state in the United States.

There is a division among bishops about whether any sex offender can ever continue as a priest, even after treatment. Some bishops have decreed no sex offender can never come back and that a ``one strike'' policy is needed.

Individual cardinals may have their own agendas, Maniscalco said in Rome.

Several have been quoted in interviews published Friday that they would look to take up issues such as celibacy, the screening of gay candidates for the priesthood and the ordination of women. John Paul, however, has repeatedly closed the door on proposals that women become priests in the Roman Catholic Church.

Cardinal James Francis Stafford, an American who heads the Vatican's Pontificial Council for the Laity, told The New York Times that the cardinals would have to look at the issue of gay candidates for the priesthood, celibacy and the role of women in the church.

Cardinal Roger M. Mahony of Los Angeles also told the Times that he would push the pope to consider such changes, although he stopped short of endorsing them.

``It's not a panacea that you have married clergy or women clergy,'' he said. ``At this point, I'm a proponent of the discussion. I want to hear a lot more.''

The scandals have shaken confidence in the American Church, cost it millions of dollars in settlements and raised questions about bishops' mishandling the investigations.

The Vatican plans morning and afternoon sessions, when the cardinals would sit down with top Vatican officials. They are also expected to meet with John Paul.

The Vatican and U.S. church are planning their own separate daily briefings, an American-style public relations effort to counter criticism that the Vatican and the pope have been slow to grasp what has become a dramatic issue for the American church.

``They want to assure the whole country that this is being dealt with,'' Maniscalco said.

Since revelations began pouring out early this year, the pope's only public reference came in a pre-Easter letter to priests March 21. He said a ``dark shadow of suspicion'' had been cast over priests ``by some of our brothers who have betrayed the grace of ordination.''

All 13 American cardinals and several bishops are expected to attend the sessions.

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