WASHINGTON (CNS) -- As then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI expressed more interest in solving the U.S. clergy sex abuse crisis than many U.S. bishops and cardinals, said two former members of the U.S. bishops' National Review Board.
They met the future pope in 2004 when he was head of the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
"Unlike many U.S. bishops and cardinals in the U.S. -- some who treated us with disdain -- he wanted to hear what was going on in the United States," said Illinois Appellate Court Justice Anne M. Burke.
She was interim president of the review board when she and two other members visited with Cardinal Ratzinger at his Vatican office on Jan. 25, 2004.
William R. Burleigh, another board member, said that the cardinal expressed a deep awareness and concern about the sex abuse problem.
In telephone interviews April 20 with Catholic News Service, both expressed optimism that efforts to prevent child sex abuse will advance under the new papacy. They added that they found the cardinal to be a humble, personable man.
Burke said that when her son died she quickly received a personal condolence letter from the cardinal with "supporting words."
Burke and Burleigh said that at the meeting the future pope was open, intelligent and willing to listen.
"He got it," said Burleigh, board chairman and former CEO of the media conglomerate E.W. Scripps Co.
The meeting was scheduled for 45 minutes but lasted two and a half hours, he said.
Both said they sought interviews with several curial officials because the board feared that the Vatican was getting filtered information about the crisis from the U.S. bishops and the board members wanted to directly present their case.
Burke said that she contacted Cardinal Ratzinger and other curial officials by getting their fax numbers and sending them letters expressing board concerns. The cardinal set up the meeting in a faxed reply, she said, after they had met with several other Vatican cardinals.
"He was reaching out to get to the truth of the issue, to get to the bottom of things," said Burke.
"I think he wanted unfiltered information from members of the laity who had no agenda," she added.
"After the meeting, he stood up and said he would proceed to act on what was discussed," she said. "We know that he did."
Burke cited a letter he wrote to all U.S. bishops urging them to use "fraternal correction" in dealing with each other to straighten out the problem, she said.
The letter also mentioned the need for the head of a metropolitan see, an archbishop who heads the chief diocese of an ecclesial province, to oversee compliance with Church policies of the other bishops in the province, she said.
Burke added that the cardinal pledged support for the apostolic visitation of U.S. seminaries to check policies on formation and screening of candidates, considered a crucial response to the sex-abuse crisis. The visits of seminaries are expected to begin in the fall of 2005.
The cardinal favored extending the special legal norms temporarily granted to the U.S. Church to deal with clergy abusers, she said.
On March 30, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' spokesman Msgr. Francis J. Maniscalco said that the norms had been extended at least until the U.S. bishops begin reviewing sex abuse policies in June.
Burke said that the new pope is now in a position to keep these norms in place. The meeting with the cardinal started a dialogue, she added. "Rome listened."
The Vatican also favorably took notice that prevention policies include a role for lay people in overseeing aspects of conduct, she said.
Burke and Burleigh said that the man they met does not resemble the formidable, intransigent Church official that has been portrayed by some of the media.
"He is a very humble man, warm and friendly," said Burleigh.
"He needs to have a fair break," said Burke.
The third review board member at the meeting was Robert S. Bennett, an attorney in the firm of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom in Washington.
All three resigned from the board in 2004 when their terms expired.
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