Cardinals debate new charter to deal with paedophiles

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The Independent US

America's Catholic cardinals and bishops, accused of systematically ignoring or covering up child sexual abuse by hundreds of priests, arrived in Dallas last night for a two-day meeting to adopt a new paedophilia charter they hope will quell the scandal.

America's Catholic cardinals and bishops, accused of systematically ignoring or covering up child sexual abuse by hundreds of priests, arrived in Dallas last night for a two-day meeting to adopt a new paedophilia charter they hope will quell the scandal.

With only a short closed-door session scheduled for this afternoon, the otherwise public gathering is expected to be stormy, with victims of abuse poised to testify, and conserv-ative and liberal wings of the Church planning noisy demon-strations. "The world is watching, the Catholic world and non-Catholics as well," said Bishop George Niederauer of Salt Lake City, one of eight prelates on a committee responsible for the new charter.

A draft text said any priest who abused a minor in future should be stripped of his priesthood. The zero-tolerance approach would be moderated for those who erred once in the past: they would be allowed to remain, under tight restrictions. Two polls this week found about 80 per cent of American Catholics demanding zero tolerance in all cases.

The Church has long struggled worldwide with revelations of child abuse by its priests. The scandal in America has been fuelled by evidence that church leaders responded for years by shifting offending priests from parish to parish and approving payment of hush money to victims.

The spark was the case of serial paedophile John Geoghan, convicted in Boston in January. Since his trial, about 250 of the nation's 46,000 priests have resigned. A meeting of US cardinals with Pope John Paul II in Rome two months ago prompted the move towards a new charter.

Some Catholic leaders have started to criticise the media's role in the scandal. In one outburst this week, Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Honduras, considered a possible successor to the Pope, accused the American media of acting with "a fury which reminds me of the times of Diocletian and Nero and, more recently, Stalin and Hitler".

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