Angry parishioners blast San Jose Diocese, Catholic Church over sexual abuse allegations
By Tatiana Sanchez
Bay Area News Group
September 22, 2018
|Dozens of people gathered at Our Lady of the Rosary in Palo Alto Saturday to discuss national reports of clergy abuse within the Roman Catholic church. |
Photo by Tatiana Sanchez
Angry and hurt over national reports of clergy abuse that have again rocked the Catholic Church to its core, dozens of residents confronted Bishop Patrick McGrath Saturday to demand transparency as the Diocese of San Jose prepares to launch its own investigation.
About 70 people — including alleged victims of abuse — gathered at Our Lady of the Rosary for a listening session hosted by the diocese to allow people to ask questions, express concerns and, in some cases, outrage over recent revelations of the sexual abuse of minors by Roman Catholic priests in Pennsylvania and beyond.
Calling on the bishop to launch a criminal investigation into any local allegations of abuse, many criticized the Catholic Church for waiting so long to take action and said it’s caused them to lose hope in church leaders. Some said they’re abandoning Catholicism altogether.
John Hesler, a parishioner at Holy Family Parish in San Jose who was the first to speak Saturday, said he was molested by a priest as a boy in the 1970s in Albany, New York, where he grew up.
“At the time I told no one,” he said. “I was certain that somehow it was my fault.”
Hesler said he didn’t report the abuse until the 1990s and that the priest wasn’t removed from his post until 2002. He later found out there had been other victims.
“All of us are reliving the pain all over again,” Hesler said of the current abuse scandal.
Bishop McGrath, who responded personally to everyone who spoke Saturday, will host two additional listening sessions in San Jose next month amid a reignited debate over clergy sexual misconduct — and a systematic cover-up — by leaders in the church.
Calling the scandal “unprecedented in modern times” McGrath said repeatedly Saturday that he’s equally horrified by the onslaught of allegations that have surfaced and committed to cooperating with any local and national investigations into the abuse.
“This is the beginning, it’s not the end of the process,” he said.
The diocese prohibited members of the media from taking photos or recording the listening session.
Responding to statements from parishioners who said the scandal has shattered their trust in Catholic leaders and others who said they’re leaving the church, McGrath said, “If people feel they have a better relationship with God outside of the church, I understand that.”
The Diocese of San Jose has enlisted former FBI Executive Assistant Director Dr. Kathleen McChesney and her firm, Kinsale Management Consulting to lead an independent investigation into the alleged abuse of minors or vulnerable adults within the diocese and how church leaders handled those misconduct claims. That decision didn’t sit well with parishioners Saturday who called it, “the church investigating the church.” Several speakers pressed McGrath to turn the investigation over to the Santa Clara County District Attorney or to a grand jury.
The diocese will release next month the names of clergy credibly accused of sex abuse. The efforts follow an August grand jury report in Pennsylvania that revealed widespread clergy sex abuse dating back decades and efforts by Roman Catholic dioceses in that state to cover it up. The stunning revelation has prompted church leaders across California to reveal for the first time the names of priests who have been credibly accused of sexual abuse.
A list of eight clergymen released by the Diocese of San Diego earlier this month revealed that one priest remains active, even holding retreats in the Bay Area. Rev. J. Patrick Foley was accused of sexually molesting a couple’s young boys in 2010 in the Sacramento area, according to the San Diego Diocese. Foley faced a church tribunal but the investigation was inconclusive. While church leaders alerted police, nothing ever came of it, said the diocese.
Since the Pennsylvania report, attorneys general in New York, Illinois, Missouri, Nebraska and New Mexico have said they will investigate Catholic priest sex abuse. McGrath said he hasn’t heard of any plans for California Attorney General Xavier Becerra to investigate.
One attendee, who asked not to be identified because she was afraid to lose her job at a Catholic Church in Santa Clara County, said all these revelations and attempts for reconciliation are long-overdue but that not everyone’s voice will be heard. The church has a way of burying controversies and clergymen protect one another from such controversies, she said.
“There are a lot of people who aren’t here for a lot of reasons,” she said at Our Lady of the Rosary Saturday. “The church knows how to play these games and how to silence people before they speak up. I think this is just another one of their games.”
One speaker said the decades-long scandal of sexual abuse is due in part to a lack of women in leadership positions within the church and an archaic requirement for priests to remain celibate their entire lives — claims that withdrew loud applause in the brightly-lit hall Saturday. He announced that he and his wife have decided to leave the Catholic Church.
“We can’t bury ourselves in the joy of mass and know what’s going on outside… so we’re looking elsewhere,” he said.