Maine Voices: A Catholic in the pews responds to the diocesan legal strategy

The Portland Press Herald [Portland ME]

March 7, 2023

By Frank O'Hara Special to the Press Herald

As victims continue to struggle with the pain of past abuse, I urge Bishop Deeley to acknowledge them in his own voice, not that of an attorney.

In this morning’s Press Herald, the headline is that the Catholic Diocese of Maine is going to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court to try to deny the ability of people who were abused decades ago from suing for damages (“Diocese asks Maine’s top court to weigh child sexual abuse law,” March 4, Page A1). In this and all other stories on the subject, the only diocesan official quoted is the lawyer. The bishop is silent. A few weeks ago, “Maine Calling” had a show on this issue, and no diocesan officials would agree to participate. I can find no reference to the legal action on the diocesan website.

As a practicing Catholic who attends Mass every Sunday, I am deeply ashamed. I am ashamed of what those priests did in the past. I am ashamed that our past bishops covered their crimes up. And I am ashamed now, that my bishop’s only response to the cries of pain from past abuse victims is to send out an attorney.

In the Middle Ages, when prominent people like bishops committed offenses, they had to crawl to the cathedral on their knees, with the people they hurt beating them with sticks and ropes along the way. We’re more civilized now, I suppose. But is civilized in this case morally superior? Will we have our lawyer with us when we confront God at the end of our lives?

Here’s what I want to hear from Bishop Robert Deeley. “I’m sorry. I’m very sorry.” That’s all.

The Catholic Church in Maine today is so much better than the face it puts forward to the newspapers. I am amazed and uplifted every week by the depth of faith and generosity of spirit of my fellow parishioners. Their faith is why the church has survived for so many centuries. It’s not because of the saintliness of popes and bishops; historically, many have been corrupt and even more have been incompetent. We are still here because of the simple goodness of generations of people in the pews.

Paying off victims of past abuse will cost today’s Catholics money. Most of us don’t know the victims or the priest offenders. But we will be the ones to pay off settlements through our weekly contributions, not the offending bishops and priests from the past. That is OK. Money will not fill the hole in the lives of the victims that was caused by the abuse. But paying them is a statement from Catholics today that we are sorry that others from our community hurt them. In a small way, we will share in their pain.

I can hear the diocesan lawyer responding to the bishop right now. Don’t listen to this sentimental hogwash. Don’t apologize; it’s an admission of guilt and will be used in court against us. Don’t pay; most of the money will go to greedy personal injury lawyers, who are right now scouring the countryside looking for cases, however weak. Keep silent until after the supreme court rules.

But this situation is bigger than money. It’s about witnessing and living our Christian faith. We’re in Lent right now, the season of acknowledging sins and asking for forgiveness. All Catholics are sorry for the abuse that has taken place in our churches. I pray that, during this Lenten season of penitence, our bishop can find a way to give voice to our collective sorrow, and to ask forgiveness on behalf of all of us.