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Point of View: Confession is overdue for guilty R.C. priests

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Finally, the Vatican begins its onslaught on the sex scandal that has plagued the church for years. Meeting recently with all American cardinals, Pope John Paul II has made it clear that sexual abuse by the clergy is a sin and a crime. I hope the pontiff’s statement will bring about swift and sweeping changes in the church hierarchy.

Every day we hear, read and watch revelations of sexual-abuse allegations leveled at priests, bishops and even cardinals. Under the cloak of religion, hundreds of Catholic clerics have committed sins against God.

Revelations about pedophile priests are not new. What’s new is that more victims have begun to break their silence to bare the sexual-abuse scandal within this institution.

The American Catholic church is engulfed in its worst scandal in modern times; more than 1,400 priests nationwide have been sued on charges of abusing children.

Locally, the Rev. James Smith, 71, of St. Kevin’s Church in Flushing, recently was removed from the pulpit after being accused of sexually abusing children years ago.

One day last month, I heard on the radio that a 51-year-old woman in New Jersey alleged that a priest, now a cardinal, molested her when she was a teenager. The cardinal, however, categorically denied it and called for investigation into the charge. Who is telling the truth?

In the afternoon on the same day, I heard that a Cleveland priest accused of sexual abuse took his own life. The next day, the Archdiocese of New York reassigned five of its priests amidst the growing sex scandals across the nation.

The Hartford Courant of Connecticut reported that Cardinal Edward Egan of New York reassigned priests accused of sexual abuse and did not report them to police when he was bishop of the diocese of Bridgeport, Conn.

Speaking of pedophilia, Anthony J. O’Connell, the bishop at Palm Beach, Fla., has become the highest-ranking preacher to resign in the recent round of scandals, after admitting to sexually abusing a seminary student in Missouri in the 1970s. The student said in a U.S. News story that the bishop took advantage of him sexually when he was seeking help after being molested by two other priests.

The diocese in Boston was reported to have given prosecutors the names of about 90 priests accused in sexual scandals. It seems Boston has more pedophile priests than any other diocese. Angry parishioners have urged Cardinal Bernard Law to step down. But he said he had no intention of quitting. However, rumor has it that his American peers may persuade him to exit.

According to the media, Law transferred the Rev. John Geoghan, 66, to another parish after sexual-abuse allegations. Geoghan molested more than 130 youngsters over 30 years. He was sentenced in February to nine to 10 years in prison for his immoral conduct.

Also, the Archdiocese in Los Angeles recently removed a dozen priests accused of misconduct. A 37-year-old woman there spoke out on April 10 in front of millions of CNN viewers against a priest who, she alleged, had intimate relations with her when she was 14. When she was pregnant, the priest urged her to get an abortion. Sadly, 23 years later, the priest still is preaching.

These rotten apples have undoubtedly tarnished the image of the American Catholic church, whose parishioners account for 6 percent of Catholics in the world. Both laypersons and parishioners have expressed their strongest disapproval of the moral character of the clergy.

Two-thirds of the people said in a survey that the church is trying to cover up the scandal. The church is likened to Watergate, but the sex scandal is more serious than Watergate’s political scheme that led to President Nixon’s resignation.

Six years ago, I came across a story about an area’s bishop (I forgot his name) who had been romantically linked to a teen parishioner for a long time. When the girl reached womanhood, she married a serviceman. The bishop even officiated at their wedding. Later her husband was assigned to Vietnam. After his departure, the woman and the bishop resumed their rendezvous. After their illicitness finally was discovered, the bishop was transferred to another parish and another. He later was ousted for his immoral deeds that left his victims with emotional scars.

What’s the root cause of the scandal? Celibacy or homosexuality or both is perhaps to blame. Loving sex is human nature. Even eunuchs in ancient China had been reported to show interest in sex. For the Catholic priests, however, having sex with innocent minors is a mortal sin because, under a vow, they had solemnly chosen complete sexual abstinence.

According to a recent Newsweek poll, 69 percent say married priests are a good idea, and 64 percent support the ordination of women.

I hope the predatory priests, like their victims, will come forward to confess and redeem their sins by quitting the church for good.

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