Sins & Silence
'A Brighter Future': Priesthood Also Needs Healing

By Mary Rae Bragg
Telegraph Herald [Dubuque IA]
March 10, 2006

[See the main page of the Sins & Silence series for links to all the articles and letters to the editor.]

"The people in general have not turned against the priesthood."
Monsignor Francis Friedl, former Loras College president and commentator on current events within the church

Some priests might fear confrontations over the church's past cover-up of sex abuse by the clergy, but Monsignor Francis Friedl is not one of them.

At least not any more.

The lively octogenarian recalled the time when, before leaving Dubuque for a trip, he pondered removing his priest's collar.

Father Dave Knepper leads St. Anthony students in the Lord's Prayer. Knepper says a monthly support group helps him deal with the scandal. TH Photo by Dave Kettering.

He rejected the idea, and to his joy found himself being greeted by friendly strangers as he strolled through airport terminals.

"The people in general have not turned against the priesthood," Friedl said. "I hear the same thing from other priests, that they are getting support."

A retired pastor and former Loras College president, Friedl is active as an author and commentator on current events within the church.

Francis Friedl

Even if their heads are held high, those priests are hurt, Friedl said, because of the shock and surprise in learning of the evil committed by men they might have considered their good friends.

Father Dave Knepper, pastor at St. Anthony Church in Dubuque, has been a priest for 35 years. He considers his monthly meetings with his support group a priority.

The group's priests have been saddened by the scandal, but, in general, have been pleased with the way Archbishop Jerome Hanus and his staff are handling it, Knepper said.

Disclosing the terrible wounds inflicted upon the victims has brought a "tragic grace" to all people, Knepper said, enabling them to understand what sexual abuse does to a person.

Nick March, an associate pastor at Resurrection Church in Dubuque, was ordained into the priesthood in June 2004.

Nick March

He said that the scandal has made all priests more aware of how they relate to children, and to do things like have other adults present when children are around. "But to become cold and distant wouldn't serve anybody," he said.

The first news of the scandal occurred while March was in the seminary. It was hurtful to hear, he said, but as a community, the seminarians made the decision to follow through with their calling.

When they reunite on vacations these days, March said his friends from the seminary seem to share his sense of tremendous satisfaction.

"The choice was to say, 'I'm going to be part of a brighter future for the church and the people, to be part of a safety net for the children, to do what we can to see that these kinds of things don't happen again,'" March said.

Monsignor James Barta, vicar general for the Archdiocese of Dubuque, said it is hard to know if the abuse scandal is having an effect on people considering a vocation in the church.

Barta calls the scandal the "most corrosive, destructive experience that priests have had" during his 50 years in the priesthood.

It has not had a terribly destructive effect on younger priests, Barta said, because they had a chance to opt out of the seminary when the scandal opened, but they chose to continue.

Regular demands of contemporary church life are strenuous enough, but the added tension brought on by allegations of abuse add to the burden for many, Barta said.

"A lot of priests feel they are just one telephone call away from catastrophe," he said. "One accusation and the machinery goes into action."

If the allegation proves to be untrue, the accused priest can be restored to his office, "But it's impossible to restore their good name," Barta said.


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