Allegations against Priest Won't Shake Faith

By Sue Ontiveros
Chicago Sun-Times
February 25, 2006

It's a pretty sad day for a Catholic when you breathe a sigh of relief that the charges facing a priest revolve around taking liberties with money, not children.

That's where we find ourselves these days in the Archdiocese of Chicago, and it's not good.

Certainly, for me, when the Sun-Times broke the story last weekend that the archdiocese had accepted the resignation of the Rev. Mark Sorvillo as pastor of St. Margaret Mary parish because of "apparent financial irregularities," it was another news story involving my faith. Last Sunday night, when things settled down, I had to admit this is a lot more than just a news story to me.

You see, for about 12 years, Father Mark has been my family's pastor.

I've always found him to be a well-educated and well-spoken man. We've spent more than a few evenings together in parish meetings and at social events.

We've shared lively conversations about religion, politics and food. I always appreciated that he could tolerate having a parishioner who speaks her mind about the church in a daily newspaper. Through a serious health issue and personal problems, I turned to him and received emotional and spiritual support.

His words at funerals of friends who died suddenly were the ones that gave me comfort.

But as I mentioned, Father Mark is my family's pastor. So this doesn't involve just me. It meant I had to talk about the story and allegations with my son. True, he's 17 now and knows adults are not perfect, but this was his parish priest. Father Mark's the one who guided him through three sacraments and altar serving. He's the priest who year after year led my son and his classmates through school masses.

I tried to just deliver the facts as I knew them and discuss the news article itself. I was doing pretty good until he asked, "But why, Mom, why would Father Mark do something like that?"

Questions like that make you miss the days when the inquiries were merely where do babies come from.

I didn't do so hot in my answers. All I could come up with was that I didn't know. And a kid looking for guidance wants more than that from a parent.

So I took a couple of days before we tackled the subject again. This time I told him that sometimes even good people, people we believe in, can make terrible decisions. And that while we may be confused or angry, we still have to make room in our hearts for forgiveness, because that is an important part of our faith. We're not the ones who get to judge and play jury.

And I wanted him to realize that even though these allegations involve someone who has been an integral part of his faith, it still is separate from the purity of that faith. More than once I said don't let the actions of any person, even a leader of our church, bring a split between him and his faith, for it would leave a deep personal void.

I told him that our family would continue to support our parish financially because the good it does far outweighs a situation like this. I told him I didn't want this to color his feelings about being generous with the church when he's an adult with a regular paycheck. I assured him that a situation like this has to make the archdiocese look at its procedures to make sure those hard-earned dollars the faithful give will be used as they're meant to be used.

I told him it was too bad he hadn't gotten himself out of bed last Sunday because then he could have asked the bishop himself for assurances that a situation like this is a rare one in the archdiocese.

Surely it couldn't happen in other parishes, and it certainly won't occur in ours again, I guaranteed him.

He didn't say much, but I knew he was listening. And now I hope the leaders of my church are, too.


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