The extraordinary summit of U.S. cardinals and Vatican officials on clergy sex abuse will likely focus on speeding up the removal of errant priests, a leader among American bishops said Tuesday.
Also on the table at next week's meeting: the merits of enacting a binding national policy that could standardize how U.S. bishops handle charges of molestation against Roman Catholic clergy.
"The commitment to protecting the safety of children and vulnerable people and the commitment of all of us bishops and clergy to lives of integrity is not going to end," said Bishop Joseph Galante, coadjutor of Dallas and member of a panel overseeing the U.S. bishops' response to the sex abuse scandal.
Observers cautioned against high expectations for the Rome gathering.
The church is known for its deliberate style, and the meeting next Tuesday and Wednesday should be seen as one step in a long struggle to restore trust in the church, they said.
Still, the Vatican has never before moved as swiftly to convene a meeting of cardinals. The pope called all American archbishops to Rome in 1989 to discuss divorce among Catholics and other issues, but that gathering was planned long in advance.
"It seems to indicate that there was some concern not just to protect the church from scandal, but for the bishops to be true pastors and shepherds of their flock," said Christopher Bellitto, a church historian and academic editor of the Paulist Press.
"It seems to indicate that the pope is exercising his role as the good shepherd and not simply the CEO."
Russell Shaw, a former spokesman for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Knights of Columbus, saw the pope's summons of the 13 U.S. cardinals as a show of solidarity with the American church and Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston. Law's archdiocese has been the epicenter of the raging scandal.
Law, meanwhile, disclosed Tuesday that he has been in Rome the past few days and met with the pope and other Vatican officials. In a statement, Law said he raised the possibility of resigning and came away encouraged.
"As a result of my stay in Rome, I return home encouraged in my efforts to provide the strongest possible leadership in ensuring, as far as is humanly possible, that no child is ever abused again by a priest of this Archdiocese," he said.
The cardinal acknowledged in January that he failed to remove a pedophile priest now accused of molesting more than 130 people. He has refused to step down in the face of intense pressure.
"I think the pope wants it to be known that he backs Cardinal Law and he wants it also to be known that the cardinal's colleagues in the American hierarchy do as well," Shaw said.