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  Archdiocese Copes with Trust, Money Challenges

By Peter Smith psmith@courier-journal.com
The Courier-Journal [Louisville KY]
June 14, 2004

Since reaching a $25.7 million settlement with plaintiffs in sexual abuse lawsuits last June, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Louisville has sought to stabilize its finances, rebuild the trust of parishioners and reinforce policies to prevent abuse in the future.

Archbishop Thomas C. Kelly said he believes the archdiocese is accomplishing those tasks but acknowledges it has a way to go.

"We certainly have lost some people over this issue," he said. "... I grieve over it, every one of them. But we've still got fairly healthy church attendance."

Kelly added that some Catholics have reduced or stopped their financial contributions because of the scandal. Overall, "I find that our people continue to be generous," with some increasing their giving, "knowing that we were in a very tight spot."

Kelly said the victims deserved compensation and that he doesn't regret the settlement, despite its impact.

The archdiocese cut a quarter of its budget and eliminated one-fifth of its staff.

Religious education and Catholic Charities programs have been reduced, but "essential services have not been interrupted," he said.

"If the word is not taught and the poor are not served, then you really have to start worrying in a big way," he said.

Brian Reynolds, chancellor and chief administrative officer for the archdiocese, said some parishes have seen increased giving and others decreased. But a separate fund drive, the annual Catholic Services Appeal, has fallen short of its $3 million goal. Reynolds said the archdiocese had reached more than 90 percent of its goal, but did not have a more precise figure.

In the past year, the archdiocese implemented strict new guidelines on removing alleged abusers from employment, and 5,800 workers have undergone training on detecting, preventing and reporting sexual abuse.

IN OTHER developments, the archdiocese is moving forward with a legal process that could lead to as many as nine priests being removed from the priesthood.

The archdiocese has completed materials for the Vatican to consider in seven of the cases.

The priests involved include Louis E. Miller and Daniel C. Clark, both now imprisoned, as well as Joseph Stoltz, Thomas Creagh, Joseph Herp, Robert Dollinger and Edwin Scherzer. Kelly had removed the seven priests from all ministry in 2002, concluding that sexual-abuse allegations against them were valid, but only the Vatican can remove a man from his status as priest.

The archdiocese's review board recently concluded that allegations against two more priests are true those against James Hargadon and J. Irvin Mouser. Kelly had removed Hargadon from ministry in 2002, but the archdiocese waited until his recent criminal conviction to prepare a report for the Vatican.

Mouser, accused in five lawsuits, denied committing any abuse, but the review board concluded otherwise, Reynolds said.

Earlier this year, the review board backed Kelly's decision to return another accused priest, the Rev. Donald Ryan, to service.

Victims' advocates have criticized that decision. Two men who participated in the settlement told the review board that Ryan molested them 30 years ago. Ryan denied the charges.

The crisis, meanwhile, has prompted some lay persons to seek a greater role in the church. The local chapter of a reformist group, Voice of the Faithful, has met with several priests to plan such involvement.

THE GOAL is "not to pull any bishops down or make the life of the priests more difficult, but to try to convince lay people to assume the role they've been given," said local coordinator Vince Grenough.

Kelly said the archdiocese has long supported lay involvement.

The Rev. John Burke, who this week takes new assignments as pastor of Our Lady and St. Cecilia churches, said he believes the church is emerging "sadder and wiser" from the crisis, better trained to prevent abuse in the future.

Burke took heart from his gardening experiences, saying he's "never had more roses" than after he recently trimmed his rose bush.

The church, he said, has undergone a similar pruning.

"I'm not seeing roses right now, but I've got some hope," he said.

 
 

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