Sins & Silence
Parishes Encounter Challenges to Their Faith

1 Active Catholic Finds the Cover-Up Very Difficult to Reconcile

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.]

As a parish leader, father of three young daughters and the nephew of a priest, Eric Foy's Catholic world was shaken to the core by revelations of sexual abuse by priests.

"It has tested me a bit with my faith," said Foy, whose testing included learning of accusations against one of the parish priests from his childhood, a man now dead.

Eric Foy

Like many Catholics in the Archdiocese of Dubuque, Foy has pondered each new turn of events, and in the process, come to a new place.

"I've resolved it as good people do bad things sometimes," he said, "but covering up that activity was wrong."

Foy said he was pleased by Dubuque Archbishop Jerome Hanus' response to allegations of abuse against archdiocesan priests.

Unfortunately, he said, Hanus had to bear the responsibility of making amends for a cover-up that happened decades ago - long before Hanus took office.

Even more than the individual acts of abuse, Foy said, his greatest disappointment is in how his church failed in those days to protect the children, moving accused priests from parish to parish while ignoring the children's plight.

"I can't even fathom how the church could not respond," he said.

Some say earlier bishops saw the conduct as a moral issue that could be addressed by chastising the priest, while they remained ignorant of the horrific impact on the victims.

The evil of sexual abuse and the need to confront it are not new concepts to him, Foy said. For some time, his family has supported Riverview Center, the Galena, Ill.-based service for victims of sexual abuse.

"It's an area of public service that we feel very strongly about," he said.

Foy said he tries to remember how different society was 50 years ago, how "certain topics" were never discussed. Still, he is haunted by the thought.

"As a parent, it's probably one of your biggest fears, that something like this could happen," Foy said.

For the past three years, Foy has been parish council president for St. Raphael Cathedral, and although clergy abuse has never been on meeting agendas, he said it sometimes comes up in connection with other subjects.

A discussion of financial matters and the decline in contributions can spur the topic. It cannot be proven that the abuse scandal has affected the collection basket, he said, "but you wonder if it comes into play."

About 18 months ago, Villanova University created a Center for the Study of Church Management. Charles Zech, an economist at the Philadelphia school, said the center came about as an outgrowth of the clergy abuse scandal.

Teaming with Foundations and Donors Interested in Catholic Activities Inc., and Zogby International pollsters, Zech researched the Catholic laity's attitude toward giving to the church, including the impact of the scandal.

The organization started tracking the financial fallout about four years ago.

"We can still see a good deal of anger that is out there on the part of donors," said Francis Butler, the consortium's president.

But the anger appears to have less impact on giving when it is closer to home.

According to Zech, "Most Catholics still continue to support their parish at the rate they did before."

The most negative reaction appears to come at the national level, toward collections supported by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, he said.

"Most folks like their pastor, so there is not much of an impact at the local level," Zech said, "but when you get to the bishops, that's where the impact is the biggest."

In dioceses untouched by the scandal, giving to diocesan appeals such as Catholic Charities seems to be fairly steady, as it has in dioceses where bishops have been proactive in addressing the issue.

"The way the bishop reacts is critical," Zech said.

On Feb. 21, Hanus announced a $5 million settlement between the Dubuque archdiocese and 20 victims who were abused during the previous 50 years. Hanus also issued an apology statement, one that Foy said he believes was heartfelt and important.

"Recognition of the issue and a sincere apology was necessary," Foy said, "but those (abused) individuals and all of us are going to have to forgive for us to fully recover from this.

"We're hopeful that the church will come through this and learn from it, and be better because of it."


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