Church Service to Help Heal Wounds of Priest Abuse

By Peter Smith
The Courier-Journal [Louisville KY]
Downloaded May 22, 2004

Victims of priest abuse will join Roman Catholic Archbishop Thomas C. Kelly and others tomorrow in a reconciliation service that one organizer says is meant to "heal some wounds."

The service will be held at Holy Spirit Church, one of the hardest hit by the abuse crisis in the Archdiocese of Louisville. The event grew out of a proposal by a support group of sexual-abuse victims who meet regularly at the Lexington Road parish.

"We didn't want it focused on our Holy Spirit group or even Holy Spirit (Church), but we thought it would be a good place to have it because we're the place with more victims than any other place," said Cal Pfeiffer, a member of the support group.

Pfeiffer said all the sex-abuse victims are invited, along with concerned Catholics and "anyone who had been hurt by this entire process."

The service will include a reading from Scripture and talks by a victim of abuse, Jim Cecil, and Archbishop Kelly, he said.

Thirty-six people sued the archdiocese in 2002 and last year, saying the Rev. Louis E. Miller sexually molested them while he served as a priest at Holy Spirit in the late 1950s and early 1960s. They were among 243 victims of various priests and church workers who settled with the archdiocese last year for $25.7million.

Miller last year began serving a 30-year sentence for abusing children at Holy Spirit and in other locations.

Pfeiffer, who is among those who did not bring civil or criminal charges but say they were also abused by Miller, said his group proposed the service two years ago when news of the allegations broke.

But relations between church officials and the support group were too tense at the time, he said. He said the relationship is improving and hopes this service continues that effort.

He added that many victims "just broke off from the church 30 and 40 years ago because of what happened. We wanted to use this as a way to maybe bring them back in. But we also knew many other victims who never came out and sued or became part of the criminal process. Perhaps this would be a way for them to attend and become a part of the process."

The Rev. Paul Scaglione, a member of the archdiocese's Sexual Abuse Review Board and head of its Office of Pastoral Care, has been meeting with the group since last fall and helped plan the service.

He said the archdiocese has done some outreach to victims, including one-on-one meetings with Kelly. He told the local Catholic newspaper, The Record, that the service is an expansion of such efforts.

"We are called to be agents of healing and reconciliation," he said.

Kelly will be there not as "part of some legal battle," he told the newspaper, but as "pastor of the church, leading us in prayer and asking for God's strength as we take the steps to do all the little, nitty-gritty things we must do to make trust a reality."

Pfeiffer said he believes the archdiocese has taken some meaningful reforms, such as training employees in preventing sexual abuse. But he wishes it had made more efforts to reach out to victims instead of waiting for them to come to it.

"Hopefully (the service will) heal some wounds and give the archbishop a chance to say something meaningful instead of talking around the issue, and hopefully specifically address the problem and how it (the crisis) happened," he said.

Victims who settled with the archdiocese accused more than three dozen people of abuse; more than one-third of them accused Miller. A handful of lawsuits remain pending.

Not all victims will attend tomorrow's service. At least two said in interviews they planned to protest outside the service, saying Kelly should support the release of a confidential deposition he gave in a pending lawsuit and that he should release information about why the archdiocese cleared one accused priest who is back in service.

"I just can't participate until all the facts and the deposition are released," said John Scott, one of the 243 plaintiffs.