Cardinal McCarrick Urges Uniform Policy on Abuse Allegations

Says Seminaries Should Do More Rigorous Screening of Candidates

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WASHINGTON, D.C., APRIL 18, 2002 ( Cardinal Theodore McCarrick says he hopes his U.S. counterparts adopt a national policy requiring dioceses to notify civil authorities of any credible allegation of sexual abuse by priests.

In an interview with the Washington Post, the cardinal also said bishops need to do more to ensure that seminaries «weed out people who should not become priests» by requiring extensive psychological testing and criminal background checks.

Cardinal McCarrick of Washington is one of the U.S. cardinals summoned by John Paul II to Rome next week to address the sex abuse scandals in the United States. It has led to the removal of dozens of priests and a crisis of trust in the Catholic hierarchy.

«We have to make sure that we´re all on the same page and … that every credible allegation gets both to the diocese and … to the civil authorities,» Cardinal McCarrick was quoted as saying.

«You can suggest, you can cajole. But if a [bishop] really thinks he has it under control in another way, then it´s hard to get him to change,» he told the Post. «But if the Holy Father says, ´I think everybody should do this,´ then we all tend to do it.»

Noting that he has not yet received an agenda for the Rome meeting, the cardinal said the goal of the two-day session «could be whatever the Holy Father wants it to be.»

But the cardinal said he believes it is vital for the Catholic Church in the United States to begin «really tackling this [scandal] in a more comprehensive way.»

Since 1993, the Archdiocese of Washington has had a policy of requiring any credible allegation of sex abuse against a clergyman to be reported immediately to civil law enforcement authorities. Such allegations have resulted in the removal of six Washington area priests since 1995.

«In Washington, I think we´re on top of it,» Cardinal McCarrick told the Post. «But I think what probably has to be done — and the Holy Father can do this more effectively than anybody else — is that everybody has to have a plan, everybody has to have a procedure, everybody has to have a policy.» The cardinal said that if the Pope, after listening to the U.S. cardinals, decides a national policy is needed, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops could be «the instrument» for putting it into place.

Regarding the psychological testing and criminal background checks of would-be seminarians, Cardinal McCarrick said: «I think we have to somehow make sure that our people know what we´re doing, that the people know that the bishops are taking this seriously.»

To that end, he said, he favors declaring a «national day of prayer and reparations» for Catholics in the United States, possibly on the feast of the Sacred Heart at the end of June.

The Archdiocese of Boston, where the scandal began in January with Cardinal Bernard Law´s admission that he had quietly moved a pedophile priest among parishes, has agreed to pay more than $30 million to settle victims´ lawsuits.

Cardinal McCarrick said he thought the cardinals would «certainly» discuss the possibility of a full accounting by U.S. dioceses of how many priests have been removed for sexually abusing children and how much money has been paid out in secret settlements.

Pressed for his opinion on full financial accounting, the cardinal told the Post: «I´d have to think about it more. I don´t want to weasel out of the reply, but I think I can see many advantages in total sunshine. And there may be disadvantages I don´t see, but let me study that.»

Cardinal McCarrick said he does not believe that the scandal has revealed fundamental flaws in the Church´s religious doctrines or administrative principles. Celibacy, he said, has nothing to do with pedophilia. And, he maintained, fewer than 2% of all priests have been accused of sex offenses.

Asked what he thought might be the long-term impact of the scandal on the Church, Cardinal McCarrick predicted that it would «cause a greater openness on the part of all of us, and that has to be good, because the church is supposed to be a family and you can´t have a family if only half the people know what you´re doing. The sunshine should come in.»

Church leaders, he added, «will have to be … more open in our financial dealings, more open in our personnel practices, more open in how we train our seminarians … I think people are going to look [more closely] now, and they have a right to.»

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