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AMERICAN MORNING WITH PAULA ZAHN

Interview with Richard Sipe, Steve Rossetti

Aired April 25, 2002 - 08:15   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: After two days of meetings in the Vatican, the final communique by U.S. Catholic leaders may have raised as many questions as it answered. The bishops say they will work out the details at a meeting in June in Dallas. American cardinals and bishops left their sex abuse summit with an official condemnation, but no decision on a one strike you're out policy for predatory priests.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BISHOP WILTON GREGORY, PRESIDENT, U.S. CONFERENCE OF CATHOLIC BISHOPS: There is a growing consensus, certainly among the faithful, among the bishops, that it is too great a risk to assign a priest who has abused a child to another ministry. That's clear. But it was not within the competence of this particular meeting to make that final determination.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: The cardinals say zero tolerance will be a top priority at that June meeting in Dallas.

And joining us now from San Diego, Richard Sipe, a retired priest and psychotherapist. And from Fort Worth, Texas this morning, Father Steve Rossetti, a psychologist and a consultant to the bishops committee on child sexual abuse.

Good to see both of you again. Welcome.

RICHARD SIPE, RETIRED PRIEST/PSYCHOTHERAPIST: Good morning.

FATHER STEVE ROSSETTI, PSYCHOLOGIST: Good morning, Paula.

ZAHN: Good morning.

So, Richard, what do you make of what the cardinals' recommendations are on one hand to remove priests who are serial abusers and stopping short of a zero tolerance policy perhaps for other priests who have abused fewer children?

SIPE: Well, Paula, I think there was a great significance in this meeting in the fact of the meeting. The substance of the meeting is still really to be determined.

Cardinal Maida made this suggestion in 1987 to all of the bishops of how to get rid of offending priests. But what the meeting has done is put on the table several broad questions that have to be faced. One is the whole question of the practice of celibacy. They're not just limiting it to priests who offend against children. The other thing that they've put on the table is the whole question of homosexuality. Those questions have been raised, actually, by Rome, by the pope's publicity man, by the pope's spokesman.

So those are questions that it's bubbling up and it's a good first step to acknowledge the problem.

ZAHN: But Father Rossetti, when you take on those two incendiary issues that Richard just mentioned, the issues of celibacy and homosexually, wasn't it quite clear from Bishop Gregory yesterday that the cardinals were clearly divided on what is a bigger problem, the commitment to celibacy or the fact that priests are -- there are priests who are homosexuals within the church?

ROSSETTI: Well, Paula, I don't think the issue is homosexually per se, but the fact that some priests, a minority, are not living their promises of celibacy. Some are heterosexual and some are homosexual. And I think that bishops, and especially the Holy Father, saw this as not only a crime to child sexual abuse but also a difficult moral issue. And the church needs to be tougher on priests who do not live their promises.

ZAHN: We had an interview with a man who claims his son was repeatedly abused by a priest in San Diego over a six year period. Allegedly the abuse started when this child was five years old. And Father Rossetti, he said that essentially it made him sick yesterday to watch this news conference because he said he didn't hear anything coming out of those cardinals that would convince him that the children in the church today are any safer than they were before this meeting was held.

ROSSETTI: Paula, clearly, the cardinals and the Holy Father have said children must come first and the safety of children must come first. Now, what I find encouraging about the last two days was the cardinals for the first time said that they're going to push for a national policy, that this would not be optional for bishops in the United States, this would be mandatory, and hoping that this policy would be the beginning of an international policy, would be my hope, that the church worldwide would follow some strong guidelines on stopping the evil of child sexual abuse.

I also found some hope in the fact that the Holy Father himself said that this was first and foremost a crime, as well as an evil.

ZAHN: Richard, your reaction to what Father Rossetti just had to say? Because I know you've had a chance to obviously interface with a number of families who claim they were victimized by priests?

SIPE: Well, certainly I hold the same hope that Father Rossetti holds. I mean this has to be the beginning of a reform and a continual growth in the understanding of this. I'm still involved in a number of cases of sexual abuse by priests and I'm getting the same reaction from the bishops that we've gotten before, a kind of stonewalling, an emphasis on protecting the documents of the church rather than the victims.

But we hope that this will be the beginning of a very significant change.

ZAHN: Richard, I don't know whether you're familiar with this, but apparently the bishops drafted a letter that was going to be sent to priests all over the country in America, essentially showing the empathy that they have for the situation priests are in. And I had a father on this morning, once again, who alleged his son was abused saying that that was just a complete slap in the face, that there wasn't any mention of the victims in this drafted letter.

SIPE: Well, I've read the letter, I've read the documents that came out, and I can understand people feeling that they are left out and the bishops admitted that there is no mention of lay people in the documents that they put out, although they said in the discussions it was there.

This was just the beginning and I think it was a necessary beginning. I was disappointed that all the bishops weren't there to confront the press because this crisis has been led by the press's discovery, and it's going to continue because there's just as much to uncover in the diocese of Los Angeles as there was in Boston and that's going to continue and it has to be dealt with and I was disappointed that the bishops weren't there both to confront the people through the press last night.

ZAHN: And, of course, there's a lot of speculation this morning about why Cardinal Law didn't make an appearance at that news conference and all his spokespeople will say was that the news conference ran way over, started late and he had other things to do.

Richard Sipe, Father Steve Rossetti, we're going to have to leave it there this morning. Thank you both for dropping by so early in the morning on your end of the country.

SIPE: Good to be with you.

ROSSETTI: Thank you, Paula.

ZAHN: All right, thank you.

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