At one Catholic Church in Arizona, the abuse scandal brings frustration, but faith remains strong

Arizona Republic

April 22, 2019

By BrieAnna J Frank

The All Saints Catholic Newman Center near Arizona State University’s Tempe campus was busier than usual.

It was Palm Sunday, which begins the holiest week of the church year, culminating with Easter. By midafternoon, the Rev. Rob Clements was busy preparing for the 5 p.m. Mass, setting up the altar at the front of the sanctuary and ensuring that tables at the back were stocked with service programs and palm branches, which are distributed to the congregation on this day.

One man entered the empty sanctuary at about 3:45 p.m., made the sign of the cross as he entered the last row of pews and knelt in prayer for several minutes.

He then approached Clements, who had set up a table in a corner of the sanctuary, and the priest began hearing the hushed tones of the man’s confession — one of the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church.

The man returned to the pew and prayed for only another minute or two before leaving the church, the first of several dozen people who showed up for confession Sunday afternoon prior to the Palm Sunday 5 p.m. service.

The scene contrasted findings in a Gallup poll published last month showing nearly 40 percent of American Catholics have questioned their involvement in the church because of the child sex-abuse scandals that continue to rock the institution in the United States and elsewhere.

A bombshell Pennsylvania grand jury report published last year revealed that more than 300 “predator priests” had abused more than 1,000 children across several decades in that state, providing new fuel to an issue that has hung over the church since widespread reports of abuse — and church leadership cover-ups — began surfacing in the early 2000s.

Clements, pastor and director of the Newman Center in Tempe, said he does not know of anyone who has left his congregation because of the scandal.

He said that though his congregants care about the issues within the larger Catholic institution, what matters most is that they can trust their local church. His, in particular, caters to many younger Catholics because of its location at the northwest corner of University Drive and College Avenue, across from the main ASU campus.

“Politics is local,” he said. “For Catholics, it’s all about their local connection. What’s my parish like, my priest — do I feel a connection to him? This other stuff that’s going on, it doesn’t impact my world.”

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