|Ruben Rosario: Keep One Eye on the Lord, the Other on Church Leaders
By Ruben Rosario
February 8, 2009
The emotionally jarring reunion of the two childhood pals was painful but also immensely moving to witness.
'Fred!' a sobbing David Bidney bellowed Thursday after he was ushered into a small conference room at St. Paul attorney Jeffrey Anderson's downtown office and spotted Fred Guenther. Bidney, 49, attended Island Lake Elementary. Guenther, 48, attended nearby St. Odilia Parish School in Shoreview. They had not seen each other since the early 1970s.
The two shared a friendship born and nurtured on the playing fields that still adjoin the two schools. Inside this conference room, they learned they also shared un-Godly abuse at the hands of a priest.
"I didn't know you were involved," Bidney said.
"Me either," Guenther replied, tears welling in his eyes now. The two men then embraced for a long time.
"I told you," Bob Schwiderski, another survivor of clergy sexual abuse, said as he put a consoling hand on Bidney's shoulder. "You weren't alone."
It's been a bad week for Catholics, or more accurately stated, the leaders who run the "one, true, holy and apostolic" church.
Pope Benedict XVI landed in hot water after he brought back into the fold an excommunicated British prelate who publicly denies the Holocaust ever took place. The pope, caught off guard by the uproar in the international Jewish community and in his native Germany, now wants the man, Richard Williamson, to recant his position before he can be fully admitted as a bishop in the church.
Meanwhile, a federal grand jury in Los Angeles is looking into whether the head of the Catholic archdiocese in California and other church officials committed fraud by failing to inform parishioners of known "sexually predatory" priests in their midst, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The probe comes just after the Los Angeles archdiocese, the nation's largest, paid a record $660 million to 508 alleged clergy abuse victims.
Cardinal Roger Mahony is among those reportedly being summoned to appear before the grand jury, according to public reports. This is the same Mahony who stated in a deposition that appears in the documentary "Deliver Us from Evil" that he would not remove from ministry work a priest who exhibited "sexual urges" toward children.
WHO'S TO BLAME?
And we have closer to home the $1.7 million settlement in which the Roman Catholic Order of Crosiers admitted that former members sexually abused Bidney, Guenther and at least seven other minors in the 1970s and 1980s throughout Minnesota.
For the record, here are their names: Gerald (Jerry) Fucheon, who abused Bidney, Guenther and a third unidentified child; and Wendell Mohs, 56. Both left the order in the 1980s. Also named by the Crosiers were Gregory Madigan and Gabriel Guerrero, who remain priests but are on restricted duties and are barred from ministry work.
The order also has agreed to disclose the identities of other alleged abusers not named in the lawsuit. I learned there are other victims out there, including three brothers deciding whether to come forward. Basically, there will be more sad reunions like Thursday's.
Now, some will blame lawyers like Anderson for carving a nice little niche by digging up these victims and going after church coffers. Others will blame the news media for reporting these scandals and blowing them out of proportion. A few will even blame victims like Bidney and Guenther for seeking to make money out of their childhood abuse.
So, as a practicing Catholic, this is my sermon for today, this 8th day of February of this year of our Lord 2009: fiddlesticks.
Don't blame the lawyers. Definitely don't blame the victims. And if you want to blame the messenger, go ahead: Take a ticket and get to the back of the long line.
The blame falls squarely on child molesters and the church hierarchy. It would have been nice if the Crosiers and the archdiocese officials across the nation who secretly aided and abetted these predators had publicly come forward and revealed the sins of the past, if not present.
PRAY, BUT KEEP YOUR EYES OPEN
It surely would have been nice had they defrocked the abusers and called the police and stopped hiding and shifting them from one place to another like a three-card Monte dealer in Times Square. I'm sure they would have saved countless children from such abuse and its lingering effects.
No. It took lawsuits. It took men like Bidney, Guenther and Bob Skjonsby, 43, a retired Navy lieutenant colonel, to break years of silence and summon the courage to come forward.
Bidney and Guenther suffered through alcoholism and failed marriages. Bidney's wife and two kids left him 15 months ago. He never told them about the abuse. Both lost their faith. Bidney says he regained his recently but does not attend church.
Skjonsby, a married father of three who was abused by Mohs while an altar boy at Sacred Heart in Wahkon, Minn., doesn't practice any religion.
"I'm not there yet," Skjonsby told me. "I live by the Golden Rule now: Do unto others as you would like them to do unto you."
Evil, though, should never trump or defeat faith. That means the abusers won. I know absolutely wondrous people in the church, as well as priests who are holy, live the faith and are as outraged as regular folks about these scandals.
But as I talked with Bidney, I remembered the words from the father of a child victim I interviewed years ago in Bemidji: "I go to church now for the sacraments, not for the priest."
Basically, keep the faith, pray with eyes closed, but keep your eyes open for those who run organized religion, no matter what the denomination.
Sermon's over. Please rise for the benediction.
Ruben Rosario can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 651-228-5454.
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