'Painful' healing from clergy sex abuse of children will take time for Catholic Church, its members, experts say
By Becky Jacobs
September 23, 2018
|Bishop Donald Hying talks to the parishioners of St. Mary of the Lake Church in Miller about the status of the church which was in jeopardy of being closed as of 2015.|
Photo by Jim Karczewski
Daniel Lowery sees the Catholic clergy sex abuse scandal as a grieving process.
There’s denial, anger, bargaining and depression, he said, but the final stage of acceptance is going to be tough for people. Many are not ready for acceptance yet, he said.
“It’s a matter of choice, individually,” Lowery, theology professor at Calumet College of St. Joseph, said.
In light of lists released in recent weeks in northern Indiana of priests “credibly” accused of sexually abusing children, Lowery, Bishop Donald Hying of the Diocese of Gary, and other theology experts spoke of their views about how the church and its members can grapple with this information and work to move forward.
The Rev. Dale Melczek, who preceded Hying as bishop, did not respond to multiple requests from the Post-Tribune for an interview.
Last month, the Diocese of Gary published a list of 10 former priests found guilty of “credible actions of sexual molestation of minors.”
The Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend issued a similar list earlier this month of 17 former priests and one former deacon who were also credibly accused of sexually abusing minors. One of the priests, the Rev. William Gieranowski, served at parishes in East Chicago and Munster in the 1940s and 1950s, according to the diocese.
A Pennsylvania grand jury report released in August found that roughly 300 Roman Catholic priests molested more than 1,000 victims since the 1940s in that state. The Rev. Raymond Lukac, who taught at Bishop Noll Institute in Hammond the 1960s, was included in the Pennsylvania report.
“The church can never apologize enough to the victims of sexual abuse,” Hying said.
Until this year, the Diocese of Gary had not released a list like this but Hying said it “should be consistently done across the board as we move forward.”
Lowery and Thomas A. Howard, Dusenberg Chair of Christian Ethics at Valparaiso University, said they feel that the publication of these lists and the transparency of these accusations are an important part of the process.
“This type of abuse … they need to be called out,” Howard said.
Howard said that “there probably need to be more investigations” to look into it all. Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan joined other attorney generals who have said they want to meet with Catholic church leaders to work on “a complete and accurate accounting” of the abuse allegations. Hying said he is supportive of these outside investigations.
“I think it would be a helpful step in terms of transparency,” Hying said. “You know, have somebody from the outside look at our files and just affirm that the church isn’t hiding anything. We’re not trying to cover this up. Here it is.”
The fact that some of these allegations occurred decades ago doesn’t change how they should be handled or believed, Hying said.
“I think it’s still relevant to look at because we need to deal with the dark legacy of that, even if it is in the past,” Hying said.
Future generations of the church need to be taught about this past, the Rev. Kevin Scalf said.
“Those that don’t teach and learn from history are doomed to repeat it,” Scalf, theology chairperson at Calumet College of St. Joseph, said.
This should be done through age-appropriate lessons, and it’s important to include and emphasize “the context of power,” Scalf said.
“When there is an abuse of that power, there is a disempowerment,” he said.
Lowery, Howard, Scalf and Hying were clear in their words when describing the abuse: abomination, disgrace, crisis, evil, disconcerting.
For members of clergy, the generalizations of priests as pedophiles based on the accusations and reports, though, has been painful, Scalf said.
“That generalization is hurtful because we’re not all that way. We’re angered by what’s happened,” he said.
Every person who attends services, and those who are estranged from the church, will have to grapple with it all in their own way, at their own time, Lowery said. This includes having discussions, whether it’s in the church or with people’s own families, he said.
“It doesn’t invalidate the Catholic faith or say we should leave the church,” Hying said. “I think this is the time for us to lead in a new way, not leave.”
The way that “society and church both have evolved in our understanding of the whole complexity of child sexual abuse” has changed, Hying said.
“Sixty years ago, I think it was seen first as moral lapse, secondly as an illness, third as a crime, whereas today, I think we’d flip that, see it first as a criminal activity, secondly as an illness, third as a moral lapse,” Hying said.
Overall, the process of moving forward will take time and commitment, Hying and the others said.
In a homily Lowery recently gave at St. Mary Catholic Church in Crown Point, where he is a deacon, Lowery referred to Bible story in the Gospel of Mark. Jesus healed a paralytic man but instructed the man to continue to carry around the mat he was bound to for years, Lowery said.
Lowery said, “the former paralytic didn’t have the option of forgetting his past. The point, however, is that the mat no longer carried him. From this point forward, he carried the mat.”
With the church’s clergy sex abuse, “we’re still bound to our mats. We’re still bound to our grief,” Lowery said.
“This is a story like any deep wound. It’s a story that will continue for many years. Not so much the abuse, which we hope is stopped, but both the healing and the understanding of what people went through,” Lowery said.