updated 2/29/2004 2:33:53 PM ET 2004-02-29T19:33:53

A prominent lay Roman Catholic who oversaw a church-sanctioned report on how clergy sex abuse pervaded the American church said Sunday that bishops who sheltered guilty priests should resign.

Robert Bennett, a Washington attorney, said in an appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that some bishops had recognized the gravity of the problem early on and disciplined offenders, but many more did not.

Video: Asked if churchmen who did not protect children should step down, he said, “I think the answer to the question is yes. There are bishops who have totally failed as pastors and as shepherds of their flock.”

Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington argued that bishops often acted on bad advice from therapists, who pronounced many of the errant clergy rehabilitated and fit for ministry.

Bishops now recognize they must remove all offenders from church work, McCarrick said. “Now, we know what to do,” he said.

Two reports released
Bennett is a member of the National Review Board, a lay watchdog panel formed by U.S. bishops at the height of the abuse crisis, which is now entering its third year.

On Friday, the panel released two reports the bishops had commissioned on the molestation problem from 1950-2002.

The first study, by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, was an unprecedented nationwide accounting of accused priests, victims and the financial cost of abuse. That survey found 4 percent of priests who served over the last half-century had been accused of abusing 10,667 minors.

The second report was the board’s own investigation into how the crisis occurred. The panel lay much of the blame on bishops, saying they too easily forgave molester priests and were insensitive to victims.

Cardinal Bernard Law, who was archbishop of Boston when the crisis erupted in his archdiocese, is the only church leader who has stepped down over transferring predator clergy from parish to parish.

On Sunday, the lay reform group Voice of the Faithful, which was created in response to the abuse scandal, took out a full-page advertisement in The New York Times urging Pope John Paul II to seek resignations from bishops who “knowingly transferred sexually abusive clergy.”

Victims groups are also demanding that church leaders release the names of the 4,392 accused priests that the John Jay study tallied.

Bennett agreed. “Look, this is the time for openness and transparency,” he said.

Gregory: Look at circumstances
But Bishop Wilton Gregory, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said on “Fox News Sunday” that is a decision individual bishops have to make based on circumstances in their dioceses.

Video: Laws in some states limit what can be disclosed from personnel files, he said. And some victims do not want the names of their abusers released.

“So bishops have to grapple with both what must be done to protect children, but also what must be done to follow the legal limitations and restrictions under which we work,” said Gregory, of Belleville, Ill.

The two studies are online at www.catholicreviewboard.com.

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