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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: After days of meeting in Vatican City, the U.S. cardinals came to an official agreement on zero tolerance for child molesters. They say, "One strike and you're out."

I am enraged and deeply saddened that it took a group of grown men a trip halfway around the globe to conclude the obvious. Were they perhaps considering other options -- like THREE strikes and you're out? The real humdinger is that they will not necessarily apply the zero-tolerance rule to priests who molested children years ago but have repented and are well-received by their community. Where is the debate? Child molester. I'll say it again ... CHILD MOLESTER! It's time to take these people away from our children and our churches and put them in jail where they belong. -- LAURA IN LOS ANGELES

DEAR LAURA: I'm sure the majority of American Catholics agree with you. However, let's not bash the priesthood, which has many dedicated members. The problem of abuse of a trusted position exists in every religion and in every profession. The disgrace in this case is that information was suppressed and ignored for decades.

Among the letters I have received on this subject was one from a man in the Midwest, who wrote:

"As a young boy, I was molested by my priest. I thought I had brought it on myself, and I was so ashamed I never told a soul about it. Because of the recent revelations about the church, I finally found the courage to confide what happened to my closest friend. Do you know what his response was? 'It happened to me, too.'

"Abby, I wonder how many others there are like me and my friend -- who were also molested and never spoke up."

That's a good question. I urge any reader who was molested by anyone as a child to come forward and bring it to light by reporting it TO THE POLICE. A victim has no reason to feel guilt or shame. Those are emotions that should be felt by the perpetrator of such a crime. Reporting molestation not only begins the process of healing for the victim, but could also prevent other children from becoming victims, too.

DEAR ABBY: Three or four months ago, my "Aunt Rosa" hosted a "get-acquainted" luncheon and invited several of her new neighbors. One neighbor, "Mrs. Miller," complimented Aunt Rosa on her delicious Mexican casserole.

The following week, Mrs. Miller called Aunt Rosa and announced that she had broken her back. Then she asked if my aunt would prepare dinner for her -- and to please make it her "scrumptuous" Mexican casserole. Aunt Rosa was flattered. She said she was happy to help her in her time of need. Before hanging up, Mrs. Miller threw in that she'd like my aunt to pick up a dessert for her -- and to make the casserole for six, because she was having company!

Abby, Aunt Rosa spent a lot of time and money -- and never received so much as a "thank you" for her efforts. Mrs. Miller's husband even had the nerve to show up at my aunt's house with his daughter to sell her some Girl Scout cookies. Aunt Rosa said Mr. Miller looked perfectly healthy. He could have made the Mexican casserole himself or ordered take-out. I am still furious that my Aunt Rosa was treated in this despicable manner. Your thoughts, please. -- DISGUSTED IN MASSACHUSETTS

DEAR DISGUSTED: How do you say "chutzpah" in Spanish? Mrs. Miller needs to hear it -- and so does Aunt Rosa.

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