Trying Time May Await Catholics
Abuse Report's Release Shows Conflict, Anguish Church Faces

By John J. Shaughnessy
Indianapolis Star [Indiana]
December 14, 2003

As the Archdiocese of Indianapolis continues to work on an internal report about its part in a nationwide priest scandal, a University of Notre Dame theology professor says Bishop John D'Arcy of the Catholic Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend has made a decisive move toward purification.

In an internal report for the northern Indiana diocese, which was made public Thursday, D'Arcy revealed that 16 priests had sexually abused 33 children during the past 53 years. He also stated that none of the priests involved in the abuse is still in active ministry.

"It was smart to let people know," says Professor Lawrence Cunningham. "I was also very pleased that there have been no credible cases of abuse in the diocese in the past 10 years. It also put into context that we're talking about a relatively small number of priests over 53 years."

Several miles away, in downtown South Bend, Kayci Mueller was less forgiving.

"I don't think an apology makes everything better," says Mueller, who works in a spa. "One is too many."

That conflict and anguish mirror the process that Catholics and their church will face in the months ahead as other dioceses share their internal reports on the scandal, observers say.

"All of this has to be publicized for this whole issue to be put to rest," says Lynn Herold, president of the Indianapolis chapter of Call To Action, an organization of Catholics devoted to church reform. "Only then can people move forward."

National statistics concerning sexual abuse by priests since 1950 are expected to be released in late February by the National Review Board, a panel of lay Catholics appointed by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to investigate the scandal.

The Indianapolis Archdiocese plans to release its report on the clergy scandal early next year.

"We think it would be valuable for people to have a local context," says Susan Borcherts, a spokeswoman for the archdiocese. "With the national numbers coming out, they'll want to know what's happened in the archdiocese."

Some people already are calling for the Indianapolis Archdiocese and other dioceses across the country to include information that wasn't provided by the Fort Wayne-South Bend Diocese -- the identities of the abusive priests.

Revealing the identities is crucial to the healing of victims, says Barbara Blaine, who was sexually abused by a priest when she was growing up in Toledo, Ohio. She is now the leader of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, a national organization that has about 4,700 members in 56 cities, including a chapter in Indianapolis.

"When the perpetrator's name has been made public, it acknowledges for other victims that it's safe to come forward," Blaine says. "Their response is, 'I'm not alone. He did it to someone else.' It frees a victim to come forward to get healing and help."

In the Fort Wayne-South Bend Diocese, many Catholics whose faith has been tested may need a period of healing.

"When we send our kids to Catholic schools and churches, we're putting our faith in the church and in God," says K. Kushto, a South Bend Catholic who is the father of four children. "The last thing you expect to happen is children exploited."

Besides the emotional costs of the abuse, Kushto was troubled by the financial costs. In his report, D'Arcy noted that the abuse led to $1.36 million in expenses. About half of the amount -- $633,963 -- was paid to victims, while the rest of the money helped pay for legal fees and the treatment of priests.

Cunningham felt satisfied that the costs were paid through insurance and investments instead of parish tithes or contributions to the bishop's annual appeal for funds.

"The bishop has handled it in a mature way," the professor said about D'Arcy's approach to the sex-abuse situation.

He just hopes other church leaders will follow that lead.

"It's either going to be a purifying moment and a well-taught lesson for the administration of the church, or there's going to be a negative fallout in which the bishops lose their moral credibility to lead," Cunningham says.

"We need strong leadership in the church."


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