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  Catholics Express Dismay, Revulsion over the Findings

Clergy and laity in the region are now left to ponder the state and future of their church. One nun urges anger and activism.


By Jim Remsen
Philadelphia Inquirer
September 22, 2005

As District Attorney Lynne M. Abraham stood before the cameras yesterday denouncing the patterns of sexual abuse and cover-ups in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, Marie Whitehead listened quietly nearby, wiping away tears.

When Abraham called for a series of legal reforms, Whitehead clenched her fist and uttered, "Amen."

In the back of the room, Sister Mary Lou Bishoff, a Philadelphia nun and activist, stared at the floor.

"It's horrendous, absolutely horrendous," she said of the grand jury's report that the archdiocese ignored warnings about abusive priests and moved repeat offenders from parish to parish.

Around the region, the grand jury's report left Catholic clergy and laity brooding about the state of their church. As the news reverberated around the five-county archdiocese, some people voiced dismay, others outright revulsion.

The priest-abuse scandal is a raw wound for Whitehead, who says she was abused as a girl for three years by a now-dead priest whom she won't name. Now 58, a nurse, and a Presbyterian, Whitehead is the local president of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests.

Speaking after the news conference, she said she hoped the report would leave ordinary Catholics "angered at the lack of shepherding and leadership by the church leaders. I hope they do everything in their power, and they have a lot more power than they think, to get the laws changed to protect children."

John Salveson, local Survivors Network spokesman, said the report proves that the archdiocese was "a haven for decades for sexually abusive priests." He said the church hierarchy was saved by an archaic statute of limitations. "At least for now, they've beaten the system."

At Immaculate Conception Church in Levittown, the Rev. Joseph L. Logrip said, "The whole thing troubles me very very much." Logrip, who is the pastor, said he would discuss the report at Masses this weekend, as the archdiocese is instructing pastors to do.

He said he had not read the report - and was not aware that it said the archdiocese had transferred a known abuser, the Rev. John Mulholland, to Immaculate Conception in 1996 without notifying anyone of Mulholland's past. Logrip declined to comment beyond saying, "The immediacy of the report is rather traumatic."

On a street in University City, Philadelphia Parking Authority mechanic Albert DiDomenico paused from his work to hear about the revelations. He squinted hard.

"I always knew they covered up," he said. "I never believed it was just an isolated thing."

DiDomenico, 52, said that while he remained a loyal member of St. Richard's Parish in South Philadelphia, the scandal had caused him to stop going to confession.

"Now, I'd want to go in there and ask the priest, 'Who first, Father? You first, then I'll tell you mine,' " DiDomenico said with a bitter laugh.

His crewmate, Bob Potoma, a Catholic from Roxborough, nodded in agreement.

The abuse scandal has corroded children's loyalty to the church, DiDomenico said. Though he sent his two sons to Catholic schools, the older one refuses to attend church because "he's lost respect," DiDomenico said.

Richard Roth, 63, an aerospace consultant in Wayne and a member of Our Lady of the Assumption Parish, said he worries about priests' morale.

"This is certainly a serious set of charges," Roth said. "The concern I have is the effect on priests. They're the ones who will be beaten up because of this."

Bishoff, the activist nun, attended yesterday's news conference with Bud Bretschneider, a fellow member of Voice of the Faithful, a lay group formed in response to the scandal.

"You can dwell on who should be punished and how you are going to punish them, and that's normal," Bishoff said. "But an awful lot of it can be counterproductive."

Instead, she and Bretschneider called for a renewed effort to press Cardinal Justin Rigali and other church leaders to hold open forums with parishioners and account for the archdiocese's policies and expenses in the scandal.

That would help laypeople understand the implications of what has happened, Bretschneider said, "because there are people in denial."

Bretschneider called on Rigali - who has refused to meet with the lay group - to attend as many of the public forums as possible and to encourage his bishops and pastors to be open and receptive to them.

"Because until now," Bretschneider said, "the archdiocese's response has been no response, no comment."

[Contact Faith Life editor Jim Remsen at 215-854-5621 or jremsen@phillynews.com]

 
 

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