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To enhance the response of the Roman Catholic Church in the United States to charges of sexual misconduct by its clergy, the president of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops has appointed seven bishops to serve on an ad hoc committee on sexual abuse.

Archbishop William H. Keeler of Baltimore last month appointed Bishop John F. Kinney of Bismarck, N.D., to be the panel's chairman.

In announcing the formation of the new committee, Archbishop Keeler said there was room for improvement in both the bishops' response to the problem of sexual abuse and in publicizing the church's response.

Bishop Kinney said the committee would address such matters as how to better screen candidates for the priesthood and other ministries, how to assess the risks of any future assignment for "priest-perpetrators,'' and how to "lift the drooping morals of priests and some bishops.''

A number of priests now face charges or have been convicted of sexually abusing children, and two prominent U.S. bishops have been involved in sexual scandals with adults in recent years.

Also last month, in a letter to U.S. bishops, Pope John Paul II said he had appointed a joint committee of experts from the Vatican and the U.S. bishops' conference "to study how the universal canonical norms can best be applied to the particular situation of the United States.''

The pope had earlier met with a contingent of U.S. bishops to discuss the situation.

The American bishops are seeking the best way under canon law to dismiss a priest whose "moral and psychological condition'' prevents a return to the ministry, according to a statement from the United States Catholic Conference, the policy arm of the national bishops' conference.

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