Letter Details Family's Struggle with Church

Times [Indiana]
Downloaded January 18, 2004

Shortly before Christmas, Bishop Dale Melczek had the (un)enviable task of addressing the parishioners of St. Mary's Parish in Crown Point with the painful news about an episode from Monsignor Don Grass' past. I sat in St. Mary's Church on Saturday evening and listened to Bishop Melczek discuss, to the disbelief of most, a grievous transgression that Monsignor Grass made decades prior. While the words were painful to all at Mass that evening, the words needed to be spoken. I listened to the discussions after Mass and amidst the pleas of parishioners, Bishop Melczek stressed the need for the Catholic Church to be transparent to issues of abuse. It was necessary to show all parishioners and members of the Catholic faith that there were no more sweeping sexual abuse transgressions under the carpet.

I also have listened to the news and read the fallout of Bishop Melczek's handling of this incident. I can understand the anger of many people. Why wait so long? Why now? It was just one incident! For clarity, there is just one victim that has come forward. However, this was not an isolated transgression. There was more than one encounter with the victim. Understandably, many parishioners respect Monsignor Grass resulting in many questions and much disbelief. As Bishop Melczek insightfully stated on that Saturday evening, "We are all grieving."

What takes a person so long to step to the forefront when an incident like this takes place? Part of it is pure embarrassment, part of it is "who will believe me?" Part of it is to protect family and part may be the fact that after all the years you finally realize that you don't function well in your marriage because you don't trust people. You don't even trust your spouse. Marriage, which should be a lifetime of sharing and love, becomes a union of dysfunction. And the reason for the dysfunction is because you trusted someone when you were young and they took advantage of you. Now you don't feel you can trust anyone.

My spouse summed it up best while watching the story of Father Grass hit the television news. A St. Mary's parishioner stated they would like to know the name of the victim, a face to put with the allegation. My spouse's reply was simple. "Look around you where ever you are; at church, at the mall or even on vacation. One in four women has been the victim of sexual abuse in their lives as has one in seven men." Unfortunately, sexual abuse endures because far too many people continue to sweep the issue under the rug and they lack the courage to speak up. If anyone thinks coming forward is easy, they are wrong. At least now, when a victim comes forward in a case of sexual abuse by a priest, the Catholic Church is addressing the issue. There may be more that needs to be done but at least there has been a start. However, how many victims are willing to address this travesty when the perpetrator is a father, a mother, another family member or a neighbor? The Catholic Church has no monopoly

on sexual abuse. For the many that are misinformed, celibacy and the sexual abuse of a child are not related. There are more fathers sexually abusing their own children than there are priests abusing children. Rest assured, if you are a dad, you are probably not celibate.

My spouse and I pray for Monsignor Don Grass and we ask God to forgive him for this transgressions. We pray for all the parishioners of St. Mary's Parish in Crown Point. This has been an extremely shocking revelation for them. We hope and pray that there was only one victim who suffered from Father Don's moments of weakness. It is easy to understand why so many have rallied in support of Monsignor Grass, especially a true, long time friend like Monsignor Heeg. My spouse and I are former parishioners at St. Patrick's Church in Chesterton and enjoyed our time at the parish under the spiritual guidance of Monsignor Heeg. Had my spouse come to you, Monsignor Heeg, with the story of Monsignor Grass' transgressions, what would you have done? Would you have swept it under the carpet? Would you have blown the whistle on your good friend? The fact is that my spouse did build up the courage to discuss this issue with a priest ten years ago. When the priest was told of the incident his reply was

"Is that all you wanted?" and he blew it off. Now maybe everyone can understand why it takes so long for someone to come forward in cases of sexual abuse.

We should all question the way the bishops of the Catholic Church have handled these cases in the past and how they handle each case in the future. It is easy to criticize the actions of Bishop Melczek. What isn't stated in the newspapers and on television is the sincere apology the Bishop has made, more than once, to my spouse on behalf of the Diocese and the Catholic Church. Here was an innocent child that did nothing wrong and has had to carry this burden of pain and shame for over thirty years. But criticizing is always the easy way out. We need to all ask ourselves "How would you want the Bishop to deal with Monsignor Grass in this case if the victim had been your son or daughter, husband or wife, mother or father and not some faceless person from the past?" When you watch the emotional suffering that a victim goes through and how it can destroy a marriage and tear apart a family, your responses to how the Bishop handled the case may be different. Everyone should pray for all the victims of sexual abuse and we should all pray for God to forgive Monsignor Grass. My spouse has forgiven Monsignor Grass and so have I. However, just as the Pope John Paul II forgave his attempted assassin, it does not mean there were no consequences for the assassin's actions. Forgiving does not mean sweeping it under the rug.


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