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U.S. bishops fail to stop sex abuse book tour

Sat., June 7, 2008

Four of California’s leading Roman Catholic bishops, including Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony, have taken the extraordinary step of urging a fellow bishop to cancel a monthlong tour of the United States to promote his book about clergy sexual abuse.

Following direction from the Vatican, the California religious leaders and eight other prominent U.S. bishops have asked retired auxiliary Bishop Geoffrey Robinson, of Sydney, Australia, to steer clear of their dioceses because of his “problematic positions” on priestly celibacy and other issues.

In his book, “Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church: Reclaiming the Spirit of Jesus,” Robinson argues that the church’s celibacy requirement has contributed to the sex abuse crisis. He openly criticizes the papacy for failing to provide leadership. And he wonders whether the Catholic Church has been more concerned with managing the scandal than confronting it.

Those positions have put Robinson squarely at odds with church leaders on three continents.

In a joint letter last month, Mahony and nine other American bishops warned Robinson that his visit could be “a source of disunity and cause of confusion among the faithful of the particular Churches we serve.”

“I hereby deny you permission to speak in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles,” Mahony wrote to Robinson last month, citing a bishop’s authority under canon law that was repeated in separate letters from Bishop Tod Brown in Orange County and Archbishop George H. Niederauer in San Francisco.

They cited an investigation of his book by Australian bishops, who found “doctrinal difficulties” and pointed out that the head of the Vatican office in charge of all bishops had asked him to cancel his trip.

But Robinson, 70, said he has no intention of canceling any part of a trip that began May 16 in Philadelphia and brings him to California on Tuesday for appearances in La Jolla, Costa Mesa, Culver City and San Francisco.

“I’m not looking for any confrontation,” Robinson said in a telephone interview. “I’m saying, ‘Let’s start from abuse and follow that where it leads. If we find that obligatory celibacy has contributed to abuse, we must put that on the table.’ “

Robinson’s California swing comes eight weeks after Pope Benedict XVI met privately with sexual abuse victims during a U.S. visit and expressed “deep shame” over the scandal, which has cost the American Catholic Church more than $2 billion in legal settlements.

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