Distrust Is the Unfortunate Fallout
July 18, 2014
Editor's note:This page is devoted to the reaction within the community of the installation of the Rev. Eric Swearingen as the new pastor of The Catholic Church of Visalia. Following are letters to the editor received over the past week. Previous stories can be accessed at our website at www.visaliatimesdelta.com.
The installation last weekend of Visalia's newest Catholic pastor, the Reverend Eric Swearingen, was met with an outpouring of joy from the Catholic community.
The Catholic Church of Visalia was welcoming home one of its sons who had attended George McCann school and graduated from Redwood High School in the heart of a community brimming with hometown pride.
The installation and mass at St. Mary's Church in downtown Visalia on Sunday was held in front of a standing-room only crowd.
But a pall was cast on Fr. Swearingen's installation by a long-ago but lingering allegation of molestation from a former altar boy when Swearingen was conducting ministry in the Fresno diocese — and the larger, unceasing scandal within the Catholic church of sexual molestation of youth.
No criminal charges were filed against Swearingen. In a civil trial, the jury concluded that abuse "likely" occurred but could not agree that the diocese had knowledge. The split decision caused a mistrial and a second civil trial never made it court. Both sides agreed to binding arbitration and keeping the terms secret.
The church's behavior over the decades has only prolonged a shameful past that continues to plague unsuspecting children and the priests entrusted to lead them. By refusing to deal squarely, and globally, with allegations of abuse, the church is asking Swearingen to bear the heavy burden for a history much larger than his own sealed past.
Over the past few months Pope Francis has said more about the disgrace than any Catholic leader before him, calling the actions of some priests "evil" and vowing action on the part of the Vatican to investigate claims of abuse and punish perpetrators. He has begged for forgiveness from the abused. Catholics around the world have cheered at the willingness of the new pope to put things right.
But far from a reality, punishments remain little more than a hope.
Children continue to be abused at the hands of pedophiles within the church. It is without question a small percentage of the priesthood, but percentages matter little to the victims or their families. Two percent or two priests — the pain is eternal and the crime undeniably changes the direction of these children's lives.
Until the church can discover its backbone and do more than apologize for the sins of its priests, innocent priests may be forced to bear unwarranted scrutiny and certainly unwanted attention, but that will be the unfortunate fallout. The church should expect congregations around the world to continue to cast a wary eye on the accused. Better the shoulders of the priests to withstand the occasional unfounded accusation of sin than to risk exposing children to pedophiles within the church. It's a climate the children did not create.