The Church and US
Fairbanks News-Miner [Alaska]
February 13, 2006
Although delay or cancellation remain possible, the date of Alaska's first civil trial involving the Catholic church and alleged victims of sexual abuse is days away.
The bishop has discussed options under consideration with church leaders and parishioners in recent days, including the possibility of bankruptcy. The text of a letter from the bishop to members of the church is reprinted in today's newspaper.
As the number of complaints against the church has risen to 90 over the months, so have come the questions of the newspaper and how it has chosen to cover the accusations.
Some see this as the business of the Jesuits and the Catholic Church; something the general public will never understand and may not care to understand. The acts, if true, are horrendous, they would agree, but the news coverage is not fair and just something that tarnishes the church and shakes people's faith as a newspaper seeks titillating headlines.
Sometimes people say that in the United States a person is innocent until proven guilty, except in the press. But if one reads beyond the headline, that is not always true.
The church and its accused priests are innocent until proved guilty, and perhaps even agreeing to settle out of court or losing a civil action is no real admission of guilt.
For our part, we pledge to treat this situation as fairly as possible. We have crafted guidelines specific to handling these particular stories in-house. But we do recognize that, true or false, once a child accuses an adult of abuse, it is very difficult for that adult to escape unscathed--especially when the finger-pointing is carried on the front page of the local newspaper.
In an area where the Catholic schools are a major component of the educational system and the church a community stronghold of faith, trouble in the church has broad practical implications. And in some cases in villages where years ago the church was the school system or was the community gathering point and birthplace of today's rural leaders, the growing numbers of abuse accusations are sprouting like tips of hideous icebergs heralding so many fathoms of trouble under the surface that we may never appreciate their full depth.
This will be front-page news.
All we can ask of you, dear reader, is to read beyond the headlines and attempt, as are we all, to understand what is happening, what has happened and what must be done. This is a story that, as in other parts of the country, is about much more than certain individuals and children and much more than just the church establishment.
This is about the church and about all of us. More than anywhere, Alaska is a close community. Parts of our community are in difficult times, and a productive and hopeful future is going to require a great deal of learned thought and understanding for healing to occur.
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