Catholic Leaders to Priests: 'One Strike and You're Out'

By Melanie Arter | July 7, 2008 | 8:20 PM EDT

( - U.S. Catholic leaders Wednesday ended a two-day meeting at the Vatican agreeing zero tolerance policy towards pedophile priests. The church will determine at a later date what will happen to priests who have been accused of sexual abuse in the past.

"The question of the reassignment of those who have harmed children is certainly uppermost in our minds. However, the specific resolution to that particular question will be finalized when the bishops meet in June," said US Bishops Conference President Wilton Gregory.

"There is a growing consensus, certainly among the faithful, that it is too great a risk to reassign a (pedophile) priest. It was not within the competence of this particular meeting to make that final determination," he added.

Archbishop Theodore McCarrick of Washington said there will be an unwritten policy dealing with bishops or cardinals who cover up sexual abuse. However, with all that has happened within the church recently, McCarrick said he "can't see how anyone in the United States today would cover up something like that."

Cardinal Bernard Law, who admitted recently to transferring a priest to another church even with knowledge of sexual abuse allegations, was unable to attend the press conference, the bishops said, adding that Law and other bishops had previous engagements and the press conference was delayed unexpectedly.

When asked whether there will be a review of past allegations of sexual abuse against priests, Gregory said that is already underway, informally.

"I think that is already taking place. I think many of you have covered the review or the results of the review of an awful lot of dioceses that have gone back in the files 30, 40, 50, 60 years. Some dioceses, such as my own, did it many years ago. But in terms of the policy making bishops look back, I think bishops are doing that already," he said.

A grand jury will investigate allegations of sexual abuse by priests in the Philadelphia Archdiocese.

Philadelphia District Attorney Lynn Abraham Wednesday announced that church officials will cooperate with the probe and hand over any relevant records on priests accused of pedophilia, whether they are "dead, dismissed or retired."

No word on how long the grand jury investigation will last or the specific targets of the probe. "We want to give people who want to come forward the confidence to come forward," Abraham said.

Meanwhile, the cardinals proposed a national day of prayer and reparation addressing the sex scandal.

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