Bishop Accountability
  Q-C Catholic Clergy Brace for Suspicion

By Ruby Nancy
Quad-City Times
April 18, 2002

Allegations of sexual abuse and its long-term cover-up have made major headlines in recent weeks, and the Catholic Church’s failure to report, treat or expel some priests who have molested children has made it a frequent target.

In some cases, the worst criticism and the most vocal responses have come from Catholic lay people or from non-Catholics, but it is the Catholic clergy who continue to work every day in local parishes as the scandals continue to unfold and legal cases work their way through civil and criminal courts.

Bishop William Franklin, from the Diocese of Davenport, said it has not been easy.

“Priests have to deal with their own sadness (about) a brother priest harming a child. At the same time, he expresses apology to all those who have been injured and controls his anger.

“He will realize that there will be watchful eyes or the suspicion of guilt by association. He must continue to demonstrate his concern and care for all, even those who may consider him phony or less than genuine because of the aura of suspicion.

“This is a complicated question which deals with many lives: the children, accused priests, families, Catholic parishioners and their neighbors.”

Bishop Daniel Jenky, installed as bishop of the Diocese of Peoria last week, said the complicated issue deserves a very simple response from the church.

“Abusers have to be gotten rid of. Institutions have to be alert to it, unfortunately. You must deal with it. You can’t hide from it or pretend it isn’t there.”

Jenky still was auxiliary bishop in the Fort Wayne-South Bend (Indiana) Diocese when the scandal exploded onto the national scene last month, and he said most of the priests there are not yet facing frank questions from their parishioners about the church’s role in the abuse or cover-up allegations.

“When all our clergy from the western half of the diocese met, they said their members don’t talk to them about it.”

He said he believes the scandal was on the minds of many in the Catholic laity just before Easter, though, and experienced what he felt to be an affirmation of faith in the priests of Fort Wayne-South Bend.

“On the day that the holy oils are blessed for Holy Week, the priests renew their vows, and this year when they did the congregation responded with loud applause that went on for several minutes. They were showing their support for the clergy.”

Sorrow, not suspicion

Sandra Moore, of East Moline, who is a member of St. Joseph Parish in Rock Island, said her response has been sorrow, not suspicion.

“It saddens me and just breaks my heart to see all the news stories about what has been done. I remember growing up, my monsignor was almost like a god to me. I would have been devastated by something like that.

“It hasn’t affected me directly, maybe because it hasn’t been going on locally, but I’m glad it’s been brought out into the open. I don’t believe people should hide behind their beliefs or their positions when they have done something wrong.”

The Rev. Marvin Mottet, the priest at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport, said he hasn’t had awkward moments with his congregation since the Boston scandal erupted.

“I think Catholic people have a lot of common sense. They know this is happening, but they know it isn’t happening here.

“Some people don’t realize that the priests are made from the same cloth as everyone else. The human race is wounded by sin. That’s our doctrine, that’s why Christ came. We’re sad when we hear this but we shouldn’t be so surprised. Our congregation here has been great.”

The priest at St. Mary’s Church in Moline, The Rev. Jerry Pilon, said things are pretty much the same in his parish.

“For me personally, I haven’t experienced anyone treating me any differently. I haven’t really had anyone in my congregation bring it up to me and I haven’t preached on it. It hasn’t come up.

“If a Boy Scout troop leader were accused of something like this somewhere else, you wouldn’t automatically be suspicious of your local troop leader. I think you would judge the one you have on what you know of them. Most people are more open minded. They don’t lump everyone together.”

Pilar also says the real problem in the Boston diocese scandal was not just that some priests abused their positions of trust.

“I think the real difficulty that people are having now in Boston is with the bishop there, not the priests. I mean, if you find a few bad apples in a barrel, do you just move them around to other barrels? I think people are mad about the fact that the ones who did this were not removed. It was a bad mistake.”

20-year-old policy

Bishops do have quite a bit of what the religious community calls “local polity,” but Franklin says that anyone who assigns a known sex offender to any parish is not doing so with the blessing of the church.

“The church and the Diocese of Davenport have put into place policies and procedures aimed at preventing sexual misconduct,” says Franklin. “The Diocese has had an established sexual misconduct policy since at least the early 1980s, which was thoroughly revised in 1998.

“This policy not only pertains to priests, but to seminarians, deacons, employees and regular volunteers who would work with children or vulnerable adults. (It) includes training requirements and a questionnaire as well as an annual acknowledgement of the policy.

“Our policy includes an appendix entitled ‘Ministry to Minors.’ It reminds all clergy, employees and regular volunteers of guidelines to be used in ministering to our vulnerable populations.”

He said the diocese is taking another look at their policy this year.

“As any responsible organization, the diocese reviews policies on a rotating basis or as issues arise. In light of this national attention, we are reviewing our policy on sexual misconduct.”

Though obviously not foolproof, Franklin said the long process required to become a priest should allow the Church to identify most clergy candidates with problems before they are ordained.

“In addition to academic studies, the six years of minor and major seminary include training and support programs which help the seminarian understand himself and what would be expected of him as an ordained priest,” he said. “There is a focus on spiritual, psychological, physical and social development of candidates during those seminary years. Extensive background checks and screening are conducted for seminarians and permanent deacons long before ordination.”


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.