Pilarczyk Can't Atone with Secrecy

Dayton Daily News [Dayton OH]
Downloaded March 12, 2004

SEVERAL TIMES WEDNESDAY NIGHT, ORGANIZERS of Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk's speech at the University of Dayton asked the audience to listen respectfully, then ask their questions civilly.

The request was a pre-emptive appeal. The university knew there were sexual-abuse victims and their families in the crowd. The audience of several hundred more than obliged. People were memorably polite, almost reverential, even when they were expressing outrage or struggling to tell how they or their children had been abused and, in one case, raped.

Many left disappointed, though, and probably more angry than when they came. Archbishop Pilarczyk read a defensive, overly rationalized account of what the bishops were thinking and doing when the scandal was building. He talked about how difficult their jobs are and insisted that, until recently, church law prevented him and others from putting the rights of children above the rights even of known sex-abusing priests. He apologized, but there was no appeal for forgiveness.

And he wasn't prepared to explain why the church is taking so long to resolve cases against priests suspected of abuse or why the archdiocese is not willing to say where these suspected offenders are living now.

In addition to refusing to give out that information, the diocese will not release the names of four priests who have resigned voluntarily and who have been accused of abuse. (Archbishop Pilarczyk defends that decision by saying those individuals are no longer under his authority.)

And the archdiocese has a list of still seven other priests whom it has investigated for possible abuse. Because diocesan officials weren't able to substantiate the charges against the men in this group, those names, too, remain secret.

While ordinarily there would be a logic to not publicly exposing someone who the church believes has been falsely accused, many Catholics and non-Catholics justifiably lack confidence in the archdiocese's investigatory will or skills.

Who's looking over the archdiocese's judgments?

Archbishop Pilarczyk feels that he's done his best, that he personally is culpable for few among the church's embarrassments. (When a sympathetic questioner asked Wednesday why he was apologizing, he said, "I represent the church. . . . I have to say I'm sorry when agents of the church have done wrong.")

Is Archbishop Pilarczyk the right man for his job? The church's personnel decisions are for the church to decide. But the sex-abuse scandal moved church business - and the Cincinnati archdiocese's business - into the public realm. Even now that business continues to be scrutinized and criticized for decisions that affect more than just church followers.

There is, for instance, something chilling about several priests leaving the priesthood possibly as a way to keep their abuse from becoming public. If they offend again, what will be the archbishop's response then?

What is abundantly obvious is that secrecy got the Catholic Church into this tragic mess. Secrecy will not be the way to avoid further victimization and soul-searing heartbreak.


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