Deputies Keep 4 in Black Robes from Entering Catholic Church

By Sandi Dolbee
Union-Tribune [San Diego CA]
June 3, 2004

Inside the sanctuary of St. Michael's in Poway last Friday afternoon, the ordination service for two new local priests had begun. But outside, the scene was a reminder that these are still not normal times for the Roman Catholic Church.

Sheriff's deputies were summoned after four black-robed protesters refused church orders to leave the property. The protesters were there on behalf of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), and they wanted to go to the service.

The low-key confrontation began about 20 minutes before the scheduled 4 p.m. start of the ordination service, as four demonstrators gathered in the parking lot with a film crew. A church worker told them they were on private property and had to leave. When they kept walking toward the church, the Sheriff's Department was called.

Deputies arrived about the time the service was starting, and they stood outside with the demonstrators, explaining to them that if they didn't leave, they would be arrested. After talking for several minutes, the foursome agreed to move.

"I feel totally left out," said Jaime Romo, who led the small group and also is the head of the local chapter of SNAP, the country's largest victim's rights group.

Gabrielle Azzaro, another protester who, like Romo, was frustrated by the reception. "We need to be heard," she said.

For more than two years now, the clergy sexual abuse scandal has besieged the Catholic Church nationwide as molest cases dating back decades have emerged, along with lawsuits, some arrests and a vocal chorus of critics. What happened last week is another reminder that this issue is not resolved.

Romo passed out copies of a letter he sent to San Diego Bishop Robert Brom, asking to read a statement at Friday's service calling upon the newly ordained priests "to listen to survivors' stories so that victims can begin to heal and children can be better protected from abuse in the future." SNAP also wants all priests to participate in a sensitivity training workshop.

A spokesman for the Diocese of San Diego would not comment on the incident.

Meanwhile, the sanctuary of the Poway church was packed for the first ordination service in this diocese in three years.

People stood in the back to watch and applaud as Edward Joseph Horning, the oldest of six children from Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Lakeside, and Vu Hoang Lam, one of eight children whose home parish is Our Lady of the Sacred Heart in East San Diego, became the diocese's newest priests.

Horning, a 27-year-old San Diego native, is being assigned to Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in El Centro. Lam, who will turn 27 in September and was born in Vietnam, is going to Our Mother of Confidence in La Jolla. The program was printed in both English and Vietnamese in recognition of Lam's heritage.

In his homily during the service, Brom made no mention of the earlier outside activities. He reminded the congregation that they are all ministers; "we are to bear witness to him, all of us." And he told the priests that they should walk their talk; "mean what you say."

James Atkinson traveled from Phoenix to see Horning, his cousin, ordained. "I think it's a huge deal," he said.

Atkinson did not think it was appropriate for the protesters to be there. "It's like they are indicting all priests just because they're priests," he said. "It neglects the fact they have so many holy men."


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.