Pope Expresses Support for U.S. Church

A top U.S. bishop said Saturday that Pope John Paul II has been "deeply touched" by the suffering surrounding allegations of sexual abuse by American priests. But the pontiff did not discuss calls for the resignation of Boston Cardinal Bernard Law.

Bishop Wilton Gregory, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said John Paul expressed his support for the U.S. church during a week of talks at the Vatican, where Gregory said the abuse allegations were a central issue.

The talks between the pontiff and a delegation of American bishops, held semi-annually, came as the U.S. church faces charges it failed to respond appropriately to charges of sexual misconduct by priests.

"The Holy Father is an extraordinary pastor of souls," he said. "Given the level of anxiety and anguish, this has touched him deeply."

The pope communicated a desire to help the American church "at this difficult moment," Gregory said.

"He extended his hand in support to the bishops of the United States," he said. "The Holy See has demonstrated an extraordinary openness in understanding the particular situation that we face in the United States."

Gregory said there was no discussion of Law, who has faced growing criticism since acknowledging he transferred a priest to another parish despite knowing of sexual misconduct allegations against the man.

"I have no information regarding the Holy See and Cardinal Law. Absolutely none," he said. The Vatican itself made no statement Saturday about Law or the sexual misconduct allegations.

Law announced Friday that he would continue to lead the Boston Archdiocese "as long as God gives me the opportunity."

Gregory said Law would have to work hard to regain his credibility. "That's a great challenge that lies ahead of him."

Gregory also said U.S. bishops would try to come up with a common policy to deal with sex-abuse allegations during a June meeting.

The U.S. delegation included the conference's vice president, Monsignor William Stephen Skylstad, and its secretary-general, Monsignor William Fay. The conference serves as the U.S. church's national voice on social and religious issues.