Hopeful Note Lies Hidden in Report on Priest Abuse

By Sue Ontiveros
Chicago Sun-Times [Chicago IL]
March 6, 2004

As I sat at mass last Sunday, I wondered why there were so many empty seats.

Maybe it was the weather -- it was sunny and unseasonably warm, and we've all been waiting for that. After all, this was the last mass of the day. Maybe people couldn't pull themselves away from enjoying the day. Yet, because this mass is the last one around the neighborhood, it's usually packed.

What I hoped didn't clear the pews was a reaction to the release of the reports on the numbers of sexual abuse cases and priests. However, I know that this crisis has really affected the faithful. I've been in enough different Catholic parishes in the last two years and read their church bulletins to know that this crisis has hurt attendance at masses and put a dent in collections.

I've been as appalled as anyone over what we read in those reports. Somehow, knowing this had happened and then reading actual numbers are two different things. The reality of it all is sickening.

Like a lot of others, I think the Catholic Church handled the entire situation really poorly for way too long. Sending a known abuser off to unsuspecting parishes with whom families would entrust their children is criminal. And it's so unfair that the silence in these matters has led to so many hard-working, innocent Catholic priests being unfairly lumped in with these sexual predators.

As a parent, I'm with those who say we need to know the names of the priests who have been abusers. What good does it do to know there are predators -- whose names the church knows -- yet not know who exactly they are?

Oh, and all that money spent! In Illinois alone, the Catholic Church had to spend more than $52 million on settlements, legal fees and counseling expenses, according to published reports. When I think of the many Catholic parishes and schools that are so desperate for money, hearing that figure just breaks my heart.

Despite all this, it's never crossed my mind not to go to mass. And it certainly wouldn't make me turn my back financially on my beloved parish. Maybe it's because I've always seen my faith as a direct line between me and my God. The bishops and church leaders have merely been the middlemen.

And with such a public release of these reports, I hope that the Catholic Church can move forward and make sure that this horrible pattern ends. My biggest source of optimism lies with one of the recommendations of the National Review Board, a group of prominent lay Catholics. It's not one that's gotten a lot of attention, but for the faithful it's the one we can pray the bishops and church leaders heed and take measures to enact.

In its 156-page report, the Review Board recommends that the bishops and church leaders listen to and respond to concerns brought to them by the laity. It suggests the church hierarchy learn to act less secretively and let the laity play a part in the church.

I saw that and thought: Maybe we can turn a corner here. Maybe the bishops finally will see that the faithful are good for more than what they usually expect of us -- you know, pray, pay, obey.

For if the bishops had ever asked even one of those moms selling raffle tickets or cleaning her parish church what she thought about moving around predator priests, they would have heard immediately what a terribly dangerous idea that was.

I just hope the bishops and church leaders really consider letting the laity play the more prominent role they're ready and eager to perform. There might not be as many of us anymore, but we're still here and want to give of our time and talents to the church.

There's always been a big gap between the church leaders and the faithful in the Catholic Church. My hope is that through this terrible crisis we will learn to work together, restore trust and rebuild our church.


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