NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. Catholics angered and demoralized by thepriest sex abuse scandal say one man can help revitalize the Churchwith bold action: Pope Benedict.
The pope's trip to Washington and New York next week marks the firstU.S. visit by a pontiff since a wave of sex abuse scandals began in2002, provoking lawsuits that have forced dioceses to pay more than $2billion in settlements.
Some advocates for the victims want the pope to apologize, otherswant him to permanently ban child molesters from the priesthood, orpublicly identify them.
The Vatican has said Pope Benedict will discuss the scandal duringhis U.S. visit in an effort to heal wounds. Meetings with sex abusevictims are not on the pope's public schedule, but sometimes events areadded at the last minute.
"In addition to apologizing, Pope Benedict and all our bishopsshould meet with survivors, listen to their stories, and treat themwith respect and compassion," said Dan Bartley, president of Voice ofthe Faithful, a Boston-based group formed after the scandal eruptedthere.
Bartley called it "good news" that Benedict will address the issue,but the group wants more accountability and transparency from theChurch.
The Church commissioned a study that found 10,667 people accused4,392 priests of child sexual abuse from 1950 to 2002. Church leadershave said the study illustrates how serious they are about the problem,laying bare secrets while other institutions have not.
Moreover, it has changed its rules to more easily dismiss priestswhenever there is a credible claim of abuse, said Sister Mary AnnWalsh, spokeswoman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Walsh could not say how many of the more than 4,000 priests wereremoved -- many had died or retired by the time the report came out --but she said the pope would address the victims' suffering.
"It's very close to Holy Father's heart. He's just horrified by this crime," Walsh said.
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The Boston Globe reported in 2002 that 130 people were abused by aformer priest over three decades and he was reassigned to differentparishes rather than removed from contact with young boys.
The scandal grew from there, forcing Boston's Cardinal Bernard Lawto resign. The Boston Archdiocese later agreed to pay up to $85 millionto settle lawsuits filed by hundreds of people who said they weresexually abused by clergy.
More claims and suits led dioceses across the country to file forbankruptcy protection. Others paid settlements, including theArchdiocese of Los Angeles, which agreed to pay a record $660 millionto 500 victims of sexual abuse.
The image of bishops suffered but has rebounded. A poll of U.S.Catholic adults scheduled for release on Sunday shows 72 percent aresomewhat or very satisfied with their bishops, up from 58 percent in2004, Walsh said.
Barbara Blaine, who formed the Survivors Network of Those Abused byPriests, suspects the pope may meet with carefully selected victims inwhat she called a public relations gesture.
She said the Church continues to protect the identities of abusers and the bishops who know of their sins.
"The stakes are so high. Children are at risk. There's a publicsafety crisis still in America today," Blaine said. "We need somethingbold from the pope and we sure hope it will come during his visit."
(Editing by Stacey Joyce)