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A Cancer Across Borders

April 23, 2002

What happens behind the ornate closed doors at the Vatican this week when senior American cardinals and bishops meet with Pope John Paul II's inner circle is no longer merely of interest to the faithful.

The church is facing its gravest challenge in modern history, one that goes to the heart of its integrity and moral authority. In case after alarming case, some priests have preyed upon the children who trusted them. Worse, the church has repeatedly covered up the abuse and thus allowed it to continue. So what happens in Rome this week is a matter of large public concern. What has happened is more than a public relations disaster for the church; it is a violation of the law.

As the scandal of pedophile priests in the church keeps growing in its international scope, Catholic authorities continue to deal with the problem in the most limited fashion possible. One diocese passed the problem to another through transfers of pedophiles and a shameful "it's not my problem" attitude: city to city, state to state, one country to another, decade to decade.

Even the Vatican meeting with American bishops involves denial by suggesting that the crisis is uniquely American. The news from Poland, Ireland, Mexico and other countries demonstrates otherwise. Enough. The Roman Catholic Church must officially declare that it will report all allegations of child abuse to local authorities. But such a statement, however welcome, must not be a palliative to law enforcement. Police agencies and prosecutors must aggressively pursue investigations and prosecutions of priests who have not only broken their religious commitments but have broken the laws that govern a civil society.

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