Monsignor Says Church Didn't Recognize Damage of Abuse

Providence Journal [Springfield MA]
Downloaded February 23, 2004

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (AP) - The interim head of the Diocese of Springfield said the sex abuse scandal that has rocked the Catholic Church in recent years stems from a belief once held by some priests that having sex with young men was acceptable.

Monsignor Richard S. Sniezyk will head the diocese until the Vatican names a replacement for Bishop Thomas Dupre, who resigned Feb. 11 amid allegations he abused two boys while a parish priest in the 1970s.

Sniezyk told The Boston Globe in an interview Sunday that as a seminarian and a young priest in the 1950s and early 1960s he heard of priests who had sex with young men, but "no one thought much about it."

"They did good ministry, they were good to their people, they were kind, compassionate, but they had no idea what they were doing to these young men that they were abusing," Sniezyk said. "It was that era of the '60s - most of it took place from the mid-'60s to the early-'80s - and the whole atmosphere out there was, it was OK, it was OK to do.

"Certainly that atmosphere is not present in the church today," he said.

When he was appointed interim leader of the diocese on Feb. 13, Sniezyk told reporters that the church should acknowledge that in those decades an "old boy network" protected priests suspected of sexual abuse.

"We have to come clean," Sniezyk said then, recalling how as a young priest he heard rumors of "cliques of priests" who molested young churchgoers, yet were protected by church and legal officials. Sniezyk, who was ordained in 1962, said he never witnessed any abuse.

The Rev. James Scahill, a priest at St. Michael's Parish in East Longmeadow, disputed Sniezyk's comments about priests' attitudes toward the abuse of minors.

"He's saying priests were that lame in the brain not to know this was wrong?" Scahill told the Globe. "Any sensible person would know this is evil."

Dupre's retirement was approved by the Vatican one day after he was confronted with allegations of abuse by The Republican newspaper in Springfield. Dupre, 70, said he was stepping down for health reasons.

Hampden District Attorney William Bennett is investigating the allegations against Dupre.

Saying Mass Sunday at St. Michael's Cathedral in Springfield, Sniezyk urged parishioners to pray for both Dupre and his two accusers.

"As a diocese we need to reach out to them and do whatever we can to restore their wholeness and their healing," he said.


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