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  Parishioners Vent Anger at Clergy over Abuse
At Forums in Yardley and Plymouth Meeting, Roman Catholics Denounced Church Leaders for Cover-Ups of Priests' Actions

By Emilie Lounsberry and Jim Remsen
Philadelphia Inquirer [Yardley PA]
October 27, 2005

Anger ran high at two extraordinary forums last night as dozens of Catholic parishioners denounced archdiocesan clergymen over disclosures of priest abuse and official cover-ups.

At St. Ignatius of Antioch in Yardley, parishioners expressed outrage, disappointment and dismay about the sex-abuse scandal, saying that church leaders, including their current pastor, had failed to protect children from abusive priests.

And in Plymouth Meeting, a succession of laypeople took the floor at a Voice of the Faithful speak-out to offer a host of demands and proposals: For Cardinal Justin Rigali to sell his mansion. For parish contributions to be suspended. For sex abusers and their church "enablers" to be excommunicated.

Kathleen Zawacki, a retired FBI agent, one of the more than 350 people who packed St. Ignatius' auditorium for a meeting called by Msgr. Samuel Shoemaker, asked: "How many children did you put in peril? How many children could you have protected?"

Another parishioner, Maryann Gruda, said: "If you couldn't stand up and be a leader, I can't see you as our leader."

The gathering was marked by applause and jeers but also by prayer and calls for forgiveness. While some openly questioned Shoemaker's leadership, others voiced strong support for him, saying he was a good priest who deserved their forgiveness.

"He's not divine, and neither is anyone else in this room," Barbara Durning said.

Shoemaker, who was chancellor for Cardinals John Krol and Anthony J. Bevilacqua, said he supervised priests in the mid-1980s and spent two days testifying before the grand jury that last month issued a scathing report documenting sex abuse by priests in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

While the report indicated that Shoemaker had raised concerns that the church was not acting forcefully enough with abusers, in 1984 he appointed a known abuser, the Rev. David Sicoli, as associate director of the CCD youth program for the entire Philadelphia area. The grand jury report noted that at the time, Sicoli's file "clearly showed that he used the Church's youth groups to reward, groom and manipulate his targeted boys."

Shoemaker apologized. "I want you to know how sorry I am that this awful tragedy of sexual abuse occurred. I am sincerely sorry for anything I have done or didn't do that might have contributed to this situation," the pastor said.

Some of those present said they hoped that last night's meeting would be a catalyst for similar events across the archdiocese so that Catholics would have more opportunities to voice their hurt.

Before the start of last night's session, reporters were asked to leave, but after three reporters and some parishioners objected, the reporters were allowed to remain.

On Sunday, Rigali will celebrate 9:30 Mass at St. Ignatius and meet with parishioners afterward.

Inside Plymouth Meeting Mall, the Voice of the Faithful session drew a full house of nearly 200 people to the Church on the Mall, a Presbyterian church within the center.

The independent activist group, which thus far has been unable to meet in archdiocesan parishes, opened the meeting to anyone in the region as a way to get new ideas and new blood.

The local cochairwoman, Ambler social worker Mary Ellen Norpel, opened the program with a prayer that the Lord "set us on fire to rebuild your church... . Make us bold in proclamation."

Then, people emerged one by one from the gray-haired crowd to make their two-minute appeals. Most of them brimmed with emotion.

Jack Junod of Our Lady of Calvary parish in the Northeast was first to the microphone. He issued a familiar demand for more financial accountability by the church but added a call that the annual collection for retired priests not cover the ones suspended for abuse.

"These priests should be in jail," he said, drawing loud applause. "Get the city and state to subsidize their care."

 
 

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