Our Towns: Vernon
A Chance for Healing

Hartford (CT) Courant
May 27, 1994

The parishioners of Sacred Heart Church in Vernon gave a lesson in healing when they gathered recently to talk about sexual-abuse charges against one of their former priests.

Despite the highly emotional and sensitive nature of the issue, people talked openly, helping each other search for answers. They were understandably angry and frustrated. Some talked about loss of trust. Others remembered the good works of the Rev. Thomas J. Doyle, who is accused in a lawsuit of abusing two boys who went to the church. Both his supporters and his critics spoke.

The meeting, called by the current parish priest, the Rev. Stan Szczapa, should be a model for other groups that face a crisis, whatever its nature.

When a trusted leader is charged with sexual abuse, those who know and work with that person -- especially if he is expected to be a model of virtue -- find themselves hurt and confused.

Sometimes organizations faced with such distressing charges stonewall. They refuse to talk about the situation, or they do not answer the questions of concerned parents and others who care about the institution or agency involved. They claim legal constraints.

In Father Doyle's case, the Norwich Diocese's bishop apparently knew of the allegations in 1992, yet failed to tell parishioners. Not surprisingly, that also upset some church members.

Father Szczapa's open approach is healthy. Long before the lawsuit is decided or settled, parishioners troubled by the allegations have begun to work through their feelings. One good way to do that is to talk about the problem freely, honestly and with similarly affected people, as the parishioners are doing.


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