Saving Face Trumps Saving Children

By Sue Ontiveros
Chicago Sun-Times
February 4, 2006

This should be a time of such promise for the Catholic Church in Chicago. Last month, we heard about an innovative new evangelization program that was set to kick off within the Archdiocese of Chicago. New ideas were being put into action to draw fallen-away Catholics back into the fold. Gosh, the plan sounded good. I can't be the only Catholic here who felt like we were getting ready to turn a corner. Maybe with the right message of faith, those empty pews in our churches would fill up again. Maybe we could shore up our Catholic schools, those wonderful places of education, so that keeping them open wouldn't be such a struggle every year.

I was so optimistic about this season of renewal that I wanted to find out where and when some of these talks were being held so I could coax a few friends to come along and hear what was being said. It all sounded like a venture so filled with hope.

Boy, do I feel like a naive dope. Instead, here we find ourselves with the same old problems. It's as if the boys in the frat house are once again protecting one of their own and trying to sweep dreadful problems under the rug.

I am so angry with the leaders of the archdiocese, these men who just don't seem to see how their inaction, their dragging of the collective feet, is destroying our church. How many times do they think we can pick up the pieces?

We thought these situations of priest abuse of our children were going to be limited to acts that happened before changes were put into place. And we thought that new procedures were put into place to take swift action if allegations of sexual abuse by a priest occurred in the present. I know I believed the leaders of the archdiocese were acting in good faith and they, too, wanted to go forward. It looks like old habits of deceit and cover-up are hard to break.

Instead, as the situation that started with the charges against the Rev. Daniel McCormack unfolds, what we discover just looks worse and worse. We couldn't protect other children from McCormack because of a technicality? For that is essentially what Cardinal Francis George has said. We are seeing that our children, the future of our church, don't seem to matter as much as saving face.

I don't know if the cardinal and the other powers that be realize how bad it looks from the peanut gallery that allegations made by a nun -- in writing -- were not taken more seriously. This wasn't hearsay. This was a nun working at the school where the alleged abuse took place, for crying out loud. And we get the feeble excuse that her letter appears to have been "lost"?

I've got a suggestion for the future. Anyone who writes a letter alleging abuse should include a donation to the church. Trust me: Those letters never end up "lost."

I remember how as a child I looked up to our priests. Even today I can recall running up to Father Matthew for his blessing. To children, the priests are as good as God himself. How does a child hold onto his or her faith after being violated by one and then have the church -- their church -- treat the situation so badly?

Most likely the answer is, they don't. In a Sun-Times story this week, a woman who came forward about alleged abuse in the late 1960s told our reporters: "As a result, I lost my faith."

To me, that is the biggest crime in this entire situation.

I know the cardinal has gone out to the parish where children were allegedly abused by McCormack. But what about the rest of us? What does our church have to say to us? I know that church leaders probably look at someone like me and think: troublemaker. Honestly, I am not. I belong to a parish that I love dearly and give it my time, energy and yes, money.

But, honestly, as each day goes by, I ask myself: Do people of other faiths find themselves so at odds over the protection of children?

I find myself standing before my favorite religious statue, praying for guidance. I'm struggling out here, and our church leaders better realize, I'm not the only one.


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