Church comes clean on sex cases

Catholic priests in Washington, under orders to come clean about one of the Church's oldest open secrets, have been expressing their views from the pulpit on the arrest of three fellow clerics on charges of paedophilia.

The reading at Sunday Mass from the Gospel of St Luke provided an appropriate cue: love your enemies, Jesus said. Love Fathers Alphonsus Smith, Edward Hartel and Edward Pritchard was the message of the sermons. Forgive their sins as Christ forgave ours, the priests urged congregations.

With a candour uncharacteristic of the American Catholic Church until recent times, the archdiocese is seeking to reaffirm its moral authority following the shattering news last week that the three priests had been charged and could face up to 15 years in jail.

Last month Cardinal James Hickey, the head of the church in the nation's capital, defrocked the priests - and one other who has not been charged - after a 34-year-old man came forward and told local officials that he had been abused by each in turn during the 1970s at the parish of St Matthias. Other alleged victims have since come forward.

The four priests, summoned to archdiocese headquarters, allegedly confessed that the allegations of masturbation and oral sex in the chaplaincy were true.

In keeping with a resolution taken by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops last year, the church did not wait for the press to unearth the story.

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