Church Focuses on Atonement
Catholics Observed Ash Wednesday with Thoughts on a New Report on Sexual Abuse

By Joseph Maldonado
York Daily Record [Pennsylvania]
Downloaded February 26, 2004

Near the warmly lit altar of St. Joseph Church in Springettsbury Township, four lines of parishioners waited for their ashes to mark Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent.

One of the prayers offered by the church’s pastor, the Rev. Louis Petruha, during his sermon was for victims of abuse, including those sexually abused by some Catholic church leaders. The Ash Wednesday attention to abuse came at the request of the Diocese of Harrisburg.

Petruha said God is merciful and loving and forgives over and over again. He forgives not just for the sins of individuals, but also for the sins of the church and its clergy.

“And so we ask for God’s forgiveness for the perpetrators and reconciliation for victims,” he said.

Lynn Ruppel, who led the Mass procession, said reconciliation might not be easily achieved.

“The abusers need to pray and seek forgiveness from their victims,” she said. “And the victims will have to pray for strength to forgive those who abused them.”

The church has taken steps to protect future parishioners from abuse. Ruppel’s 6-year-old daughter, Lyndsay, attends the church’s private school.

The Red Lion mother is a library and lunch-duty volunteer at the school. She said all people who come into contact with children at the school and the church must now have a criminal background check.

“(The background check) takes a few weeks, but it’s worth it since it applies to everyone,” she said.

In the nine years she has been a member of St. Joseph Church, Ruppel said, she has had no reservations about leaving any of her three children in the care of a church worker.

“It’s a gut thing,” she said. “I’ve never met anyone here that I wouldn’t trust.”

With the recent announcements made by the Catholic Church, other changes might surface also, said another parishioner.

“Maybe it’s time that we allow priests to marry and have families of their own,” said Nancy Hart of Springettsbury Township.

Hart attended the church service with her 8-year-old son, Morgan. “Whatever steps the church is taking,” she said, “is better than sweeping problems under a rug.”

Marie Shull of Springettsbury Township said that in addition to prayer, people could make financial contributions to organizations such as ACCESS-York, which work with abuse victims.

“We can also be more proactive in supporting the efforts of our bishop,” Shull said.

On Friday, national church leaders are expected to present a report on sexual abuse in the priesthood. None of the parishioners know what to expect, but Mary Kelkis of Springettsbury Township said the report is a step in the right direction.

“The report is probably going to cost the church a lot of money in retribution,” she said. “But I guess that’s part of the cost of change and future prevention.”

Near the close of his sermon, Petruha said solutions would come from a combination of things.

“We must be a people of prayer and reflection,” he said “We must share our time and our talents. We must give alms and be ambassadors of God’s love and mercy.”