New York Cardinal Edward M. Egan, breaking his long-standing silence on sex abuse by members of the clergy, Tuesday released a statement labeling pedophilia an "abomination" and encouraging "anyone who has an allegation to bring it immediately and directly to the civil authorities."

Egan was circumspect, however, on one point that has caused a furor within his diocese and American Catholicism ever since the national wave of reports of sex abuse by priests began to cascade earlier this year: the precise circumstances under which the church is obligated to report cases of abuse.

While saying authorities should be made aware of abuse allegations, Egan stopped short of pledging that the church would, in every case, report them. He allowed that in some circumstances the diocese would decide whether there were sufficient grounds to make such a notification.

"As has been made clear, when there is reasonable cause to suspect that abuse has occurred and if the victims do not oppose the reporting, the Archdiocese will make the appropriate reports to civil authorities," Egan said.

Egan also took the opportunity to respond, for the first time, to a Courant story published Sunday that described how, as bishop of Bridgeport from 1988 to 2000, Egan kept in place several priests facing multiple accusations of sexual abuse and did not report complaints against clergy to the authorities. The story was based on thousands of pages of sealed documents and testimony from civil suits against six priests.

Saying the story "omitted certain key facts and contained inaccuracies," Egan added that he is "confident that these cases were handled appropriately." A spokesman for the cardinal declined to elaborate, saying he would provide more details in a forthcoming letter to New York parishioners.

Egan's one-page statement followed three days of unrelenting criticism by prosecutors, politicians and newspaper columnists, many of whom condemned the church's reflexive policy of silence and its record of not being forthcoming with the public and prosecutors about sexual abuse cases. His response to the crisis - and the questions raised about his personal handling of the Bridgeport cases - is important because the archbishop of New York has traditionally been considered the spiritual leader and voice of American Catholicism.

Egan's reluctance to speak out on the issue is in contrast to some other bishops, including his successor in Bridgeport, William Lori, who held a press conference Tuesday night to field questions about how his diocese intends to deal with sex-abuse complaints.

Lori did not criticize Egan's handling of the abuse cases. Instead, Lori praised Egan for his overall leadership, saying, "He left behind a magnificent diocese."

When pressed to explain some of Egan's actions, Lori said: "I'm only here to answer for the way I've responded in the past year and how I'm going to respond in the year going forward. We can all have 20/20 hindsight."

The Courant's story, based in part on transcripts of closed-door testimony by Egan, showed how the then-bishop openly questioned the veracity of a dozen people who accused one priest of rape, molestation and beatings. It also showed how Egan allowed three priests accused of sex abuse to continue working for years, in one case reinstating the Rev. Charles Carr in 1999 despite multiple claims that he fondled young boys.

Lori defrocked Carr last month after yet another complaint was made against him.

Egan also testified, in a 1999 deposition, that since his arrival in Bridgeport more than a decade earlier, neither he nor anyone else in that diocese had referred a single complaint of sex abuse by priests to police.

That appears to contrast with his statement Tuesday, in which he said he believes allegations of abuse should be reported to the authorities and that anyone who brings such n claim to the New York archdiocese will be encouraged to report it. He added that the archdiocese will make such a report when it finds "reasonable cause" to suspect that abuse has occurred.

Unlike in New York, clergy in Connecticut are mandated reporters, meaning they are among a handful of professionals required by law to refer allegations of abuse to either the state Department of Children and Families or the police within 24 hours. State statutes do not restrict the requirement to a certain time period after the alleged abuse.

But Egan's lawyer said during the deposition that he believed there is no legal obligation to report alleged abuses from the past, if the child victim had turned 18 by the time the allegation was made. Jason Tremont, whose law firm, Tremont & Sheldon, represented 26 people who settled lawsuits against the Bridgeport diocese one year ago, disagreed.

Tuesday, Tremont said he believes such cases must be reported even when the alleged victims have turned 18. Doing so, he said, could help prevent future abuses by the same suspect and could allow police to find other victims.

Tremont said Egan's statement Tuesday is woefully lacking and doesn't acknowledge the mistakes that were made during the cardinal's tenure.

"Obviously, I totally disagree with this," he said. "I don't think this statement is sufficient. I don't believe they handled it appropriately. And I think he owes a greater explanation of his actions."