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  Bishop: Scandal Will Bring Change

By Martin Tim
Lansing State Journal
April 25, 2002

Leaders from the Catholic Diocese of Lansing likely will soon schedule parish events that could help the church deal with the aftermath of its U.S. sex abuse scandal.

Bishop Carl Mengeling - leader of the diocese covering 10 counties and 225,000 Catholics - said Wednesday he hopes positive reforms will come from the crisis that has rocked the church in recent months.

"The church is under a microscope and a lot of good will come from that," Mengeling said. "If this crisis can mobilize the entire country in a campaign to protect children, it's worth it."

Mengeling said he hopes this week's meetings between Pope John Paul II and U.S. cardinals will lead to making it easier to remove pedophiles from the priesthood. U.S. cardinals agreed Wednesday, but stopped short of a blanket zero-tolerance policy to dismiss all abusive priests.

The cardinals are expected to set further policy to deal with the issue in June.

The Lansing diocese already has one of the nation's most aggressive reporting systems of suspected abusers. The policy - adopted in 2000 - requires that suspected child abuse be reported to the state's Family Independence Agency.

Mengeling supports a proposal now in the Legislature that would require clergy of all faiths to report child sex abuse involving clergy to law enforcement officials.

No one with a substantiated claim of sexual abuse of a minor is actively working in the diocese, Mengeling said.

A recently resigned priest, the Rev. Vincent DeLorenzo of Genesee County, faces claims he molested a minor in the late 1970s and early 1980s in the Flint area.

DeLorenzo resigned in January from Holy Redeemer Church in Burton, citing personal and family reasons. But he admitted sexual conduct with a minor in a letter read to parishioners last month.

Three other allegations of inappropriate sexual behavior within the diocese's clergy have surfaced in recent months, but none has been substantiated. All involve incidents from about 20 years ago and none involves pedophilia, he said.

Two of the cases involve active priests. The diocese has about 140 priests in 95 parishes.

The last prosecuted case of Catholic clergy in the region was in 1987. A Livingston County court convicted Terrence Healy of second-degree criminal sexual misconduct involving minors, and he spent 4 1/2 years in

prison.

Mengeling will meet with the Lansing diocese's six vicars today to discuss ways to help the community heal from the abuse scandals that have surfaced nationwide.

He envisions a series of meetings in the diocese's largest centers to allow parishioners to discuss the abuse issue, ask questions about the dioceses' sex abuse policy or just vent.

"It's an excellent idea to open the door to discussion," said Al Dalimonte, a Catholic from Grand Ledge.

Dalimonte said that it would also give the community a chance to show support for its priests.

"The people are hurting," Mengeling said. "It's a big family, and when part of the family is in trouble, it affects the whole family.

"But Catholics are strong. They will get beyond it ... when they see the leadership take the bull by the horns in regard to our failures."

Mengeling said many Catholics - including himself - feel hurt and "a sense of loss" from the scandals.

He said he regrets that the church didn't do a better job handling the abuse issues itself.

Mengeling commented on other proposed reforms that could affect the church.

Ending the requirement that priests remain celibate could enter future discussions among the church leadership.

But Mengeling said celibacy is not the problem.

He also said universal bans on homosexual priests may not be a cure-all because the majority of them remain celibate and don't become problem priests.

But he wants change - and not just within the church.

"We have to come up with a formula - in the church and in society - to deal with child abuse," he said.

"We need to look at it with patience and realize it may take time."

 
 

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