Priests Stop Columns
This Column Is Brought to You by the Leaders of the Catholic Diocese of Erie

Erie Times-News [Erie PA]
Downloaded December 8, 2003

They didn't pay me to write it, but they left me with a blank space and a compelling need to fill it with an explanation of why no priest is writing this column.

The Rev. Jerome S. Simmons, a priest who works at Ecclesia spiritual renewal center, was to write today's Reflections. He has written eloquently in the past about trusting God in dark times and the need for stillness in our busy lives. We expected something similarly meaningful for Advent.

On Nov. 5, however, a letter on diocese stationery arrived at the newspaper office. It was polite but brief.

Simmons, along with Monsignor Robert J. Smith, vicar general of the diocese, and Monsignor Lawrence T. Speice, pastor of St. Anthony Catholic Church in Cambridge Springs, would not be writing any columns.

The reason? Their letter cited "the tenor of the Times in recent months."

They offered no further details, but we can be sure they weren't referring to years of stories about the good works of such Catholic institutions as St. Martin Center or regular reports on parish activities.

Clearly, this was a reference to the newspaper's scrutiny of the diocese's financial condition and especially to coverage of the priest sex abuse scandal.

My duties as editor of the Faith section lean to the lighter side of the paper's reporting on religion, so I wasn't directly involved in those stories. That said, I am no Pilate trying to wash my hands of involvement.

Stories about accusations against priests have been carefully researched and painstakingly reported. They are painful but necessary.

Heinous as it is for individuals to manipulate children's minds and bodies, the bigger scandal has been church leaders' impulse to hush it up.

When "a couple" of removed priests cited by Bishop Donald W. Trautman start adding up to six, questions must continue to be asked. That's the newspaper's role as an independent institution, and it plays out daily in coverage of schools, government, businesses and public lives.

This work doesn't make us anti-school or anti-government, and you'll seldom hear anyone suggest it. It also doesn't make the newspaper or its staff anti-Catholic.

The priest columnists could have written about anything they chose to. My expectation is that they would have written with warmth and wisdom.

Bishop Trautman often talks about focusing attention on the good works of good priests instead of on the scandal.

We can count this as an opportunity missed.

JEFFREY HILEMAN can be reached at 870-1734 or by e-mail at

Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.