ROME - The leader of the United States' Roman Catholic bishops said yesterday that Pope John Paul II had expressed great compassion for and "fraternal solidarity" with U.S. church leaders over the sexual abuse scandal and was leaving it up to them to resolve it.
When Bishop Wilton D. Gregory, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, was asked at a news conference yesterday, after a week of meetings with top church officials here, whether the Vatican had placed the issue completely in the hands of U.S. bishops, he said yes.
Though the Vatican under this pope is widely thought to have centralized church administration - to the point that many bishops have complained about Rome's micromanaging - it has said little about the current crisis.
Even some officials within the Vatican have complained that top leaders here have been slow to grasp the gravity of the situation.
Gregory said the problem of pedophilia and sexual abuse involving priests would be the primary focus of a national meeting of bishops in June in Dallas, where the bishops intend to come up with nationwide protocols to prevent more cases.
There are conflicting signals from U.S. church leaders on what more can be done to address a problem that bishops have been trying to address for over a decade.
Last week, a spokesman for the U.S. bishops conference, Monsignor Frank Maniscalco, told The New York Times that he was disappointed that media coverage had failed to focus on the good work that bishops had done in trying to create measures to prevent sexual abuse by clergy.
"This is not Watergate; it's Whitewater," the monsignor said. "The bishops are surprised that no one is looking at how we've fixed things over the last 15 years, or the fact that almost none of the cases being written about today are new cases."
Asked about those comments yesterday, Gregory said: "The vast majority of dioceses implemented practices a decade ago. They set up review boards, and they did it right.
"Unfortunately, now you're judged by the worst," he added - by violations in that minority of dioceses where the problems were not properly addressed - "and not by those who got it right."
He also said that most cases being discussed yesterday were "from decades ago" and that there were "cases that perhaps, perhaps were not appropriately handled."