Bishop Is Hearing Their Pain

By Jeff Jardin
Modesto Bee [California]
January 23, 2004

Priests are trained to deal with many situations and circumstances.

They counsel people who are dying and help others understand loss.

They help couples prepare for marriage and parenthood.

They prepare children to follow the church's sacraments.

They console the depressed and feed the poor.

But when a parishioner is molested by another priest?

There is no training to cover this, nothing in the manual.

There are no answers, just apologies.

So Bishop Stephen Blaire simply listens to those who were victims of child abuse by priests in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Stockton since it was formed in 1962.

He hears their stories -- stories that shake their moral foundations and trust in the church.

He hears their sobs, their frustration, their anger.

"It's so very painful," Blaire said. "Somebody I just talked to resurrected the whole experience all over again. When you hear some of their stories, it's absolutely devastating. You're embarrassed.

"To hear what another priest has done -- that tears you apart."

Since he came to the Diocese of Stockton in March 1999, Blaire said he has personally met with eight victims and their families.

Monsignor Richard Ryan and Sister Barbara Thiella, the diocese's chancellor, have met with many others.

Victims involved in lawsuits can be contacted only through their lawyers, Blaire said. But it doesn't change his message. It can't.

"I'm sorry," he'll tell them.

Of the 29 people who alleged they were sexually abused by priests in the Stockton diocese, 17 claims were directed at the Rev. Oliver O'Grady. He served half of a 14-year sentence before being deported to his native Ireland.

Molestations have been devastating to the victims and damaging to the diocese, which has paid $4.535 million in settlements while insurers paid $5 million more.

The days of denial are over.

The church has a problem nationwide, and knows it now must be attacked aggressively. Roman Catholic officials commissioned a national study that will detail the extent of sexual abuse by priests, along with compliance by the dioceses.

They also will commission a long-term project that will study, among other things, pedophilia, Blaire said.

With the release of the national report still more than a month away, the Stockton diocese didn't wait. Thursday, it released information about child abuse by clergy in the diocese over the past 42 years. It will present the information to each of its 33 parishes.

And church officials will continue to seek out the victims.

Blaire admits he cannot assure them it won't happen again to someone else. Priest candidates undergo psychological tests and numerous interviews. Yet, molestations still happen, and the church must shoulder much of the responsibility.

"There are some who do not return calls," Blaire said. "But most will speak with you. Healing for victims is a long, slow process. We have to continue to reach out to them, to show our care and concern and counseling assistance. You let them know you're there to help."

But really, there's nothing in the book that tells a priest how to console a person molested by another priest.

All Blaire can do is to listen. Because there are no answers, just apologies.

Bee local columnist Jeff Jardine can be reached at 578-2383 or