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In the wake of accusations that it has failed to take action against priests who molest children, the national organization representing Roman Catholic bishops has issued a defense of the church's commitment to fighting child abuse. A San Jose, Calif., newspaper charged in December that the church "continues to ignore and cover up" several cases of child molestation by priests.

In response last week, Mark E. Chopko, general counsel for the U.S. Catholic Conference, said in the organization's first public statement on the subject that the bishops were "deeply committed to addressing such incidents positively, to making strong efforts to prevent child abuse, to repairing whatever damage has been done, and to bringing the healing ministry of the church to bear wherever possible."

The National Catholic Reporter has tallied 135 cases of sexual molestation by priests from 1983 to 1986; more than $20 million was paid to the victims in civil suits, the paper reported.

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