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Is Pope Signaling Change in Abuse Policy?

In his first visit to the U.S., Pope Benedict XVI has addressed the issue of clergy sex abuse several times – including holding a surprise meeting with some victims of abuse in Washington, D.C., on Thursday.

Canonical law expert Nicholas Cafardi says he sees signs that the pope may be weighing changes to church law that will make it easier to deal with the abuse problem.

"Right now, the United States has a canon law that does deal effectively with the problem," Cafardi says. "But we have to realize that this is not a problem which is unique to the American priesthood. This is a problem that has had repercussions across the Catholic world in many other countries."

Cafardi says penalties for dismissing priests who abuse children have existed for more than a thousand years.

"The problem is that that particular part of the law was not followed," he says. One reason why, Cafardi says, is because the system requires sufficient proofs of guilt and a trial to protect the rights of the accused. "That canonical system was seen by many bishops, and those advising them, as too complicated to use," he says.

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