VATICAN CITY -- American cardinals meeting with Pope John Paul II reached consensus on a "one-strike-you're-out" policy that would dismiss any priest involved in a future sex abuse case, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick indicated Wednesday.
The Washington archbishop said, however, that there were still some questions about whether a similar tough policy should be applied to cases that occurred in the past and have now come to light.
"I've got to pray about that and listen to the lay people," he told reporters at the edge of St. Peter's Square after lunch with the other U.S. cardinals and John Paul on the final day of a two-day summit of U.S. church leaders.
Asked if the cardinals were moving toward agreement on a one-strike policy, he replied, "Absolutely." Asked whether there was consensus, he said: "I think so."
The cardinals and bishops were still drafting their final statement, which would be released Wednesday evening, closing an extraordinary gathering of U.S. cardinals and Vatican officials trying to stem a sex abuse scandal that has shaken the American Church.
McCarrick told reporters there was no doubt what the pope had intended when he opened the gathering Tuesday. The pontiff said "there is no place in the priesthood and religious life for those who would harm the young."
The pope repeated his positions when he sat down for a lunch of pasta, meat, vegetables and wine with the U.S. delegation on Wednesday, McCarrick said.
McCarrick said the Americans were working toward a nationwide policy for every diocese. "This is what the Holy See is expecting."
McCarrick told NBC's "Today" that his personal approach would be to pull the abusive priest "out of his present ministry" and to alert civil authorities.
The priest would then be sent to a "therapeutic center to get evaluation," McCarrick said. After that, a panel -- made up mainly of lay people, such as "doctors, lawyer, psychologists, men from the law enforcement agency, mothers and fathers" -- would review the handling of the case.
McCarrick said he was not sure if specifics of the plan would be spelled out in a final communique from the two-day Vatican meetings. Instead, it would provide "definitive guidelines" for U.S. bishops to work on when they meet in Dallas in June.
Though America is in the spotlight, several cardinals commented that it was not only a U.S. problem. Recent scandals have hit the church in Austria, Ireland, France, Australia and the pope's native Poland.
Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles said he made that point in his own remarks to the meeting, and emphasized the importance of priests in religious orders who are often "moved from country to country" and make up half the world's clergy.
In his address Tuesday, John Paul recognized the damage the scandal has caused the church.
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