Parish Deals with Unwanted Attention
South Holland: News Media Descends on Holy Ghost after Priest Sex Abuse Allegations

By Paul Czapkowicz
The Times [South Holland IL]
February 6, 2006

SOUTH HOLLAND | On their way to Sunday morning Mass, parishioners passed news vans from ABC, NBC and CLTV lining Cottage Grove Avenue in front of Holy Ghost Catholic Church.

Inside the church, a small table contained literature that provided answers for questions regarding sexual abuse and information on how to discuss the topic with children.

The uncommon situations resulted from Wednesday's announcement that the Archdiocese of Chicago had removed the church's pastor, the Rev. Joseph Bennett, from active ministry.

An investigation is to be conducted in response to allegations that Bennett, 65, abused two girls during a 35-year span while assigned to St. John De La Salle Church in Chicago.

Bennett was ordained in 1966 and had served at Holy Ghost Parish since 1998.

The Rev. Mike Enright, pastor of Immaculate Conception Church in South Chicago, conducted the weekend Masses in Bennett's place. He offered words of comfort for the sad and shaken congregation.

"There's all kinds of reasons for hope," Enright said.

Enright assured parishioners that even through the tough times, "The Lord knows what he's doing."

Enright read a letter from Bishop Joseph Perry, the parish's episcopal vicar, whom Enright said was in New York and unable to attend weekend services.

The letter acknowledged the allegations, and while no permanent replacement for Bennett was announced, Enright said Perry will be at Holy Ghost on Feb. 12 and March 12.

There will be a prayer service for Bennett and all victims of abuse at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Holy Ghost.

The murmuring among the crowd revealed a parish family hurt and confused by the unwanted attention that has suddenly come its way.

Arlene Klawitter, a member of Holy Ghost since 1967, was among those in disbelief.

"It's kind of hard to believe that all of a sudden, after 30 years, these people are coming forward," Klawitter said. "What took them so long?"

Rich Opiola has been a parishioner for 15 years. His children attended the now closed school.

"It's quite a blow," Opiola said. "It's hard to believe. When anything like that happens at any parish or any religious faith, when you have someone that you respect and look up to, naturally, if you know most people, you don't want to believe it and right now I really don't know what to believe."


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