'We are much bigger than these scars' says priest in wake of child sex abuse scandal
By David Hurst
March 6, 2016
|Parishioners enter Our Mother of Sorrows in Johnstown on Sunday, just days after the state Attorney General released a report detailing decades of sexual abuse of children by priests in the Altoona-Johnstown diocese. A message from the bishop about the scandal was read at Our Mother of Sorrows and other churches across the diocese Sunday. |
Photo by David Hurt
Standing inside Our Mother of Sorrows' stained glass doors before Sunday mass, Rick Messina had no trouble finding words to describe his reaction to new details released last week regarding decades of years-old child abuse by local Roman Catholic clergy.
The parishioner called it a striking reminder that "horrible and disgusting" things happened for far too long in churches like his. As hard as it was to hear, it was also a necessary reminder, he said.
"It's sad that things that happened so many years ago are taking away from the beautiful things that are happening in this church," Messina said. "But it's happening right now because it needs to. This has to be out in the open so we can learn from it and people can heal."
He was among parishioners Sunday who said the both decades-long and decades-old scandal has hung over the Roman Catholic Diocese of Altoona–Johnstown and its parishes for too long – but has done so because it was hushed rather than healed.
"There needs to be healing," Messina said. "The victims and their families need to heal – and we as a Catholic community need to learn from this and move forward."
The state attorney general's office released a scathing report last week detailing decades of abuse by more than 35 Catholic clergymen and acts by prior bishops and others to cover it up. Our Mother of Sorrows is just one of dozens of churches served by priests who were accused of abusing children as far back as the 1950s, and in nearly every case no one was criminally charged.
Current Diocese Bishop Mark Bartchak issued a letter that was read to church-goers across the region Sunday, urging them to be strong as the church works to pass through "the darkness" of decades of sin.
"There is a lot more hard work to be done in identifying and responding to the misery of our diocese at this time, including the wounds of all of our brothers and sisters," Bartchak wrote.
At an 11 a.m. Mass, he reminded church-goers that "we are much bigger than these scars," even though now is a time to expose them for all to see. He pointed to scripture from the Gospel of John, reminding parishioners of the story of a sinner who was born blind but was enabled to see by Jesus – a miracle brushed off by Pharisees who were more concerned about their religious rules and Sabbath regulations.
"These were men who went to church and said their prayers, too. Sometimes there are religious people who miss Jesus Christ when he's right before their eyes - even you and I," he said. "Isn't it great that you and I don't worship bishops or priests. Isn't it great that we don't worship institutions? We worship Jesus Christ."
Begley described the scandal as a "tragedy" in his sermon, and he said he wished there were words to "heal these wounds once and for all."
But, he said, passionate, positive church ministry in the community is making a difference one life at a time. And he urged parishioners to "stay in the fight" to see diocese-wide reform.
Now is an opportunity for the church to find ways to minister and support abuse victims like it never has before, he said. It's also a time to look at the system governing churches and start a dialogue about changes that might be long overdue.
"Now, as Paul wrote, there is a light cast on the darkness, and now we can face reality and move forward as we heal," Begley said.
Parishioner Brian Mangus of Westmont agreed."He said what needed to be said," Mangus added, standing outside Our Mother of Sorrow after the morning service had ended. "We have to learn from what happened so this kind of thing doesn't happen again."