Pope addresses sex scandals in message

Bishops told to investigate allegations, but celibacy not open to discussion


ROME - Pope John Paul II explicitly addressed sex scandals involving priests yesterday, ordering bishops to "diligently investigate accusations" against those who break their vows of celibacy and chiding any who might see the priesthood as an easy life.

In his most direct and extensive remarks since the scandal started convulsing the American church, the pope made clear that mandatory celibacy is not open to discussion, either during the planned Vatican meetings with American cardinals, or at any other time.

The pope has summoned all American cardinals here for meetings Tuesday and Wednesday to discuss possible solutions to the sex abuse scandals.

Many American Catholics see mandatory celibacy as one cause of the scandals. Cardinal Roger M. Mahony of Los Angeles said this week that he intends to put the issue of whether priests should be allowed to marry on the table at the meetings.

Several American cardinals have spoken out on the abuse issue in recent days, acknowledging that they are on a mission to restore their credibility and bolster their moral leadership, though none but Mahony have addressed doctrinal issues.

On the eve of his departure for Rome, Cardinal Edward M. Egan of New York issued a letter to be read this weekend in parishes throughout the archdiocese. In the letter, Egan asks for prayers as "I embark upon this important journey" and, for the first time, acknowledges that mistakes may have been made in the handling of sexual abuse cases in New York and Bridgeport, Conn., where he previously served as bishop.

Yesterday the pope made clear, as he has in the past, that clerical celibacy was not open for discussion.

In a speech to bishops visiting from Nigeria, he said, "The value of celibacy as a complete gift of self to the Lord and his church must be carefully safeguarded."

He said, "The life of chastity, poverty and obedience willingly embraced and faithfully lived confutes the conventional wisdom of the world and challenges the commonly accepted vision of life."

He told bishops to aggressively address allegations of misconduct.

"Behavior which might give scandal must be carefully avoided, and you yourselves must diligently investigate accusations of any such behavior, taking firm steps to correct it where it is found to exist."

The pope also suggested that the church should strive to be more open in its response to scandals. "It is of the utmost importance that openness, honesty and transparency should always be the hallmark of everything that the church does."

Many at the Vatican see the sex abuse scandals as a result of morally lax attitudes, and say some priests need to be reminded that they are called to live in austerity.

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