May 14, 2002

WASHINGTON (AP) - White House officials are shifting President Bush's schedule his European trip that starts next week to make room for a visit with Pope John Paul II.

The meeting is likely to take place May 28 while Bush is in Rome to attend a summit between NATO and Russia, White House officials said Tuesday.

The original White House schedule did not include a visit with the Roman Catholic leader, but officials said they realized that it would be unusual for a U.S. president to travel to Rome without a papal meeting.

The visit comes at a tough time for the Catholic church.

Recent polls show that two-thirds of Americans say they're dissatisfied or angry with the way the Catholic Church is handling the scandal of sex abuse of children by some priests.

Church leaders meeting in Rome last month were split on the question of a ``zero tolerance policy'' for all offenders, but a majority of Catholics tell pollsters that offenders should be kept out of parish life.

At the Vatican meeting, the cardinals said they would recommend a process to defrock any priest who has become ``notorious and is guilty of the serial, predatory sexual abuse of minors.'' Other cases would be left up to local bishops. Advocacy groups for abuse victims expressed frustration the Vatican meeting didn't set a sterner policy for any offense.

The issue is expected to dominated talks at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' general meeting in Dallas beginning June 13.

It is unclear whether Bush will discuss the issue with the pope, White House officials said.

Bush is scheduled to depart next week for a trip taking him to Berlin; Moscow; St. Petersburg, Russia; Normandy, France; and Rome. The Rome portion of his weeklong trip is being adjusted to allow for the papal meeting.

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