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Two Priests Removed In St. Louis

Two Roman Catholic priests in the Archdiocese of St. Louis have been removed from duty, religious authorities said on Sunday, as fallout from a child molestation scandal roiled the church in the United States.

The dismissal of the two priests in the third-oldest U.S. Catholic community was in line with new rules that toughen standards on clergy accused of past child sexual abuse in response to a scandal in Boston, a spokesman for the archdiocese said.

The move came as a new "zero tolerance" policy for those accused in such cases was announced on Friday by Archbishop Justin Rigali, head of the archdiocese of 555,000 Catholics, spokesman Steve Mamanella told Reuters in a telephone interview.

The new policy follows a similar stance by Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston in that archdiocese in January following criminal proceedings against a former priest there who was alleged to have molested at least 130 children over the past 30 years.

Archdiocese officials in St Louis said the two priests, Rev. Michael Campbell and Rev. Joseph Ross, had resigned their posts as pastors. But a decision on whether they would be reassigned to other work had not yet been made.

Mamanella said both priests, who were subject to allegations of sexual abuse of minors in the 1980's, had later been allowed to work as family pastors after counseling and treatment had deemed that they were no risk to children.

An archdiocese committee set up in 1996 oversees such cases and individuals, he said.

"In light of what happened in Boston and other events, it was determined that now no priest who had had substantiated allegations of sexual abuse of a minor may serve in a pastoral ministry, or a ministry with children," Mamanella said.

Sunday's edition of The St Louis Post-Dispatch said at least three other priests who had been accused in civil court of sexual abuse remain active in the archdiocese, two in contact with children.

But Mamanella said that the archdiocese decided those cases were not subject to action under the new rules.

An article in Sunday's New York Times also said that two St. Louis brothers had received $20,000 each from the St. Louis archdiocese four years ago as a settlement in a sexual abuse complaint against one of the archdiocese's priests.

Mamanella declined to comment, saying: "We have not been offering comment on matters relating to past cases, only to the new rules."

The Boston case cast a spotlight on sexual misconduct of priests that has built heavy pressure on Catholic leaders.

The priest in that case, John Geoghan, was suspended in 1994 and defrocked in 1998 after the alleged molestations came to light. He is now serving a prison sentence for molesting a 10-year-old boy and faces at least two more criminal trials and dozens of additional lawsuits.

In Allentown, Pennsylvania last week, four priests were dismissed from duty amid allegations of child sexual abuse. The Diocese of Allentown, which serves an estimated 270,000 parishioners in eastern Pennsylvania, said a review of active priests found four clerics who had "engaged in sexual misconduct with minors" 20 to 30 years ago.

Philadelphia Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua offered a public apology last week to 47 victims who have accused 35 priests of sexual misconduct over the past 50 years. The Philadelphia Archdiocese has also announced the dismissal of at least five priests accused of misconduct in response to the Boston scandal.

In the neighboring Diocese of Camden, church officials are battling a New Jersey Supreme Court case in which a former seminarian claims he was forced to abandon his studies for the priesthood because of the repeated sexual advances of priests.

There are 61 million Catholics in the United States, making up about 23 percent of the U.S. population. The U.S. clergy includes 47,000 priests.