Catholics Speak out on Abuse

By Darren Barbee
Star-Telegram [Fort Worth TX]
Downloaded March 24, 2004

In tears and with raised voices, local Roman Catholics met Tuesday night at a forum in Fort Worth to try to make sense of a national sex-abuse scandal that they said has wounded them and their church.

Panelists meant to discuss a report released last month by U.S. bishops detailing the scope and the cost of the abuse, but they often listened as audience members expressed revulsion, bafflement and anger at church leaders.

"I've avoided it, I've avoided talking about it, I've avoided listening to people talking about it," said Christina Wildermann, 53, of Arlington, one of about three dozen Tarrant and Dallas county Catholics who attended the forum at the Catholic Renewal Center in Fort Worth.

"I still can't believe it," she said.

The forum, titled Our Agony in the Garden and sponsored by the Fort Worth chapter of the Voice of the Faithful, brought together a panel that included two priests, an abuse survivor and a woman whose son was molested by convicted Dallas priest Rudolph "Rudy" Kos. Voice of the Faithful is a national organization whose goal is to support victims and priests who have done nothing wrong.

Panelists said that the sexual-abuse crisis is not over and that the church must remain vigilant to protect children.

The Rev. John Robert Skeldon, a priest at St. Michael Catholic Church in Bedford, said he believes the Catholic Church made progress last month by releasing a report detailing abuse. The report showed that about 4 percent of priests, or 4,392 of 109,694, have been accused of sexually abusing about 10,000 people since 1950.

"We have at least crossed some bridge to dealing with and confronting the reality of sexual abuse in the church, perhaps in a far more open and honest way than we have in the past," Skeldon said.

As part of the national survey, the Fort Worth Diocese reported last month that since its founding in 1969, eight priests have been accused of abusing 30 people.

Several audience members and panelists said the names of the Fort Worth priests should be made public.

Jean Frie, a panelist and president of the Fort Worth Voice of the Faithful, said abuse survivors who haven't come forward need to know that they are not alone.

"Let us know who have been taken out of the ministry because of credible allegations of abuse," Frie said.

Leonard Pratt, who attends Good Shepherd Catholic Church in Colleyville, said he wants a full accounting of sexual abuse in the Fort Worth Diocese that includes the number of lay people and employees who have been accused of sexual abuse.

Pratt also said Catholics should demand that molesting priests and bishops who hid their abuse be prosecuted.

"We don't have justice," he said.

The panel focused on how to move forward after a sex-abuse scandal has damaged church credibility and cost more than half a billion dollars nationally.

Skeldon, of St. Michael, said bishops "must be silent for a long time and listen" to those who have been hurt and to others in the church.

Skeldon, who said he was romantically and sexually pursued by a priest while in seminary, paraphrased the New Testament Book of Luke, saying that "many bishops had much entrusted. It is right to require much of them. It is right to demand ... more from them."

Panelist Mark Bennett, who was abused as a boy by a priest who was a relative and by an employee of a Catholic school, said parishioners need to be more aggressive about sharing their views.

"We don't have a voice," said Bennett, a member of a Fort Worth Diocese committee that reviews allegations of sexual abuse.

But he said the hierarchy of the church also must change.

"There are a lot more people out there who suffer in silence because they just don't want to be abused by the hierarchal part of the church anymore," Bennett said.

Amber Arthur, 27, of Arlington said she grew up with the church and plans to get married this year at St. John the Apostle Catholic Church in North Richland Hills. She said she is still shocked that so many have been hurt by priests.

"If we can't trust them now, who can we trust?"


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