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  Archbishop Apologizes for Rebukes, The Recipients of Elden Curtiss' Letters Say
They Accept his Apology and will Continue to Pray for The Archbishop and The Church

By C. David Kotok
Omaha World Herald
March 25, 2002

Archbishop Elden Curtiss announced Monday that he is apologizing for his written rebukes of two Roman Catholic parishioners who publicly criticized his decision to reassign a priest who had viewed Internet child pornography.

"I am sorry that my previous letter to you was interpreted as being demeaning or even insulting," Curtiss wrote to Frank Ayers and Jeanne Bast. "I never meant it to be such."

When informed of the apology, which Curtiss said he mailed Saturday, Ayers said it was not necessary for the archbishop to apologize directly to him, "but I do definitely accept it."

"I will continue to pray for our church leadership and for Father (Robert) Allgaier and most definitely for Archbishop Elden Curtiss in these most difficult times," Ayers said.

Bast said she is glad the archbishop wrote.

"I thank him and I accept his apology," she said, "and I will continue to pray for Father Allgaier and the church."

The archbishop's remarks were greeted by a standing ovation and applause from the priests, deacons and other lay leaders from throughout the 23-county archdiocese who filled St. Cecilia Cathedral for a Mass of Oils.

Speaking slowly and in a strong voice, Curtiss said the Holy Week services leading to Easter are "a time of forgiveness and healing for the people of our Archdiocese. As your shepherd and teacher, I have an obligation to be the first to begin this process of reconciliation."

With more than 100 priests looking on, he read from the letter he sent Saturday to Ayers and Bast.

Curtiss, who had called for the two parishioners to say a Hail Mary prayer for him as penance, said Monday that for "my penance, I will say a rosary for you (Bast and Ayers)."

Curtiss also attempted to explain his previous letters to Ayers and Bast. He said his earlier letters expressed his private frustration that a fellow Catholic "would be so negative about the accusations leveled against a young priest without knowing all the facts of the case; and negative against me without knowing the process I was following with professional advice."

He wrote that he hopes Ayers and Bast pray for Allgaier, himself and the archdiocese.

Allgaier is charged in Madison County with attempted possession of child pornography. Church officials had learned last year that he had viewed pornography over the Internet while serving at Norfolk's Sacred Heart-St. Mary parish.

Ayers and Bast wrote letters to The World-Herald's Public Pulse regarding Curtiss' decision to reassign Allgaier to Ralston's St. Gerald parish from Norfolk. Both questioned Curtiss' assertion that children of the parish were in no danger. Allgaier, who has been removed from St. Gerald, has not been accused of any improper behavior with children in Omaha or Norfolk.

Curtiss wrote Bast, an 80-year-old mother of 11 and a retired Catholic grade-school teacher from west Omaha, that she "should be ashamed of yourself!"

He told 58-year-old Ayers, a St. Gerald parishioner, that someone who criticizes church leadership as he did is "a disgrace to the church."

Much of Curtiss' brief homily Monday was devoted to the service to bless the oil that is used by priests throughout the archdiocese.

He also used the opportunity to defend the church and the archdiocese in an time of national and local scandal surrounding accusations of sexual impropriety by some priests.

"Despite all the sad news nationally about failures and abuses in the church, we are able to gather with hope and confidence in our own archdiocese today and to celebrate with joy," Curtiss said.

"We are a strong, vibrant and healthy archdiocese," Curtiss said. "We need to lift our heads and spirits so that we are prepared for the great harvest that is all about us."

Most of the archbishop's remarks were geared to the beginning of the Christian holy week of Easter.

In the liturgy of the Mass, the archbishop asked the priests to essentially renew their vows to serve Jesus and the church.

He asked for prayers for the priesthood and then added, "pray also for me that despite my own unworthiness I may faithfully fulfill the office of apostolate which Jesus Christ has entrusted to me."

 
 

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