By Chaz Muth
Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON (CNS) – Pope Benedict XVI received an unusual present for his 81st birthday April 16 in Washington from men and women abused by priests as children – a plea for him to censure a U.S. cardinal.
The sign-carrying demonstrators who participated in an event held by the Survivors' Network of those Abused by Priests urged the pope during his first trip to the United States April 15-20 to take action against at least one of the four cardinals they believe have mishandled recent child sex-abuse cases.
Though pleased that Pope Benedict spoke about the church sex-abuse crisis on the flight from Rome to Washington, SNAP leaders say mere words are not enough.
The pope said he was deeply saddened by the crisis and would do what he could to prevent future priestly sex abuse cases.
"We will absolutely exclude pedophiles from the sacred ministry," Pope Benedict said. "This is absolutely incompatible, and who is really guilty of being a pedophile cannot be a priest. So this first level is, (as much) as we can, do justice and help clearly the victims because they are deeply touched. So there are two sides of the justice, on one hand that pedophiles cannot be priests and on the other hand to help in possible ways the victims."
"This is the most direct statement the pope has made on this issue to date, but it's important to note he hasn't talked a lot about it," said Peter Isely of Milwaukee, Midwest director of SNAP. "This could be a truly historic moment for the worldwide church if he backs it up with action. He has an enormous opportunity to address this terrible issue."
The demonstration was held as the pope met with several U.S. cardinals a few blocks away.
During the event SNAP named four cardinals whom they said are the worst in terms of the sex-abuse scandal. They were Cardinals Francis E. George of Chicago, Daniel N. DiNardo of Houston, Roger M. Mahony of Los Angeles and Sean P. O'Malley of Boston.
SNAP claimed those prelates have failed to properly apply sweeping measures established by the U.S. bishops in 2002 to protect children from pedophile priests.
An official of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles said Cardinal Mahony continues to be a leader in his efforts to protect children from sexual abuse and said he implemented the first written archdiocesan policies regarding this issue in 1987.
"Cardinal Mahony is clearly among the best bishops in the country at effectively dealing with abusive behavior and reaching out to victims," said Tod Tamberg, media relations director for the archdiocese. "SNAP's leadership does not speak for the majority of victims or Catholics in Los Angeles, who know and appreciate Cardinal Mahony's excellent leadership in helping the church and victims to recover from the abuse scandal."
SNAP also urged the pope to direct the heads of all dioceses worldwide to remove priests accused of sexual abuse from active ministry and from religious houses where children are accessible, said Barbara Blaine of Chicago, SNAP president.
"There is not a Catholic child on the planet that is safer today because of what the pope said," said David Clohessy of St. Louis, SNAP national director. "Actions speak louder than words. The pope can take practical steps."
Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, expressed contempt for the SNAP event and said the group refuses to recognize the great strides made by the church."Exactly five priests out of more than 40,000 had accusations made against them for abusing a minor in 2007, yet for SNAP it's never enough," Donohue said. "It's time we dismissed these professional victims' advocates for what they are, activists whose goal is to discredit the church."