Pray for Abuse Victim, the Church - and Bornbach

The Associated Press [Toledo, Ohio]
September 7, 2004

After more than 63 years in the priesthood, the reputation of the Rev. Raymond Bornbach, 89, of Marshfield lies in a shambles.

Recently it was revealed that the Diocese of La Crosse had "sufficiently confirmed" accusations that Bornbach molested a 9-year-old girl in 1971.

The Plover woman, now 42, who hadn't told her parents about the abuse until she was an adult, had sought counseling in 1997. Upon the advice of her therapist, she contacted the diocese in January 2003. On Aug. 16, the diocese sent a letter with its determination.

The diocese has reported that 58 accusations of child molestation have been lodged against 28 priests between 1950 and 2002, and that 31 claims involving 10 priests had been confirmed.

The diocese is in compliance with national guidelines for dealing with abusive priests.

In the case of Bornbach, the sanctions include permanent removal from the ministry and an order to stop wearing a clerical collar, acting as a priest and celebrating the Mass in public.

Bornbach received the same letter sent to the victim. He is in poor health and has heart problems, his lawyer, J. David Rice, said.

"The situation is devastating to him," Rice said.

Abuse by priests, whom children are taught to trust and revere, also devastates its victims. It took the Plover woman, who feared for her own children's safety in the company of adults as a result of what had happened to her as a girl, decades before she was able to seek the therapy she required. It is a bad situation all around.

At his age and in his physical condition, Bornbach also elicits sympathy.

In six decades of ministry, he married a lot of couples, baptized a lot of babies, confirmed a lot of children and buried a lot of people. Their significant moments of life intersected his at many points, both joyful and sad.

Some people will say that incidents more than three decades ago should not be held against Bornbach now, in the twilight of his life. And forgiveness is a basic tenet of Christianity, whose god - Jesus Christ - was crucified to secure salvation for human sinners.

While the victim may forgive Bornbach, it's crucial for the Roman Catholic Church in the United States to deal appropriately with priests whose acts harm the church and its members, especially vulnerable boys and girls.

While this one situation with Bornbach and several involving another former priest, Bruce Ball, have come to light, there are at least eight other priests who were involved in abuse in the Diocese of La Crosse since 1950. Those weren't publicly reported, and in the interest of protecting the victims maybe shouldn't have been.

But there is a crisis of confidence, and only the catharsis of confession can cleanse the church now.

Now, as much as ever, the nation needs the moral compass that only the priests of the Roman Catholic Church and other clerics in the faith community can provide to lead it through a morass of difficult issues.

The lesson to take from the Bornbach case is that all of us - each and every one of us, even an ordained religious leader - can stray and we need the help of countless others to find our way.

We pray for the Roman Catholic Church, for all victims of abuse ... and for Raymond Bornbach. - STEVENS POINT JOURNAL.


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