Priests Feel Hurt, Angry, Guilty by Association
When Scandal Breaks, Say Innocent Pastors, They and Flock Get Caught in
By Mary Therese Biebel
July 9, 2006
[See other articles in this feature:
Sins of Our Fathers, by Dave Janoski, Times Leader (7/9/06)
Shame of the Diocese: Allegations? Move Father Caparelli. More Allegations?
Move Father Caparelli. Convictions? Keep Quiet, by Dave Janoski, Times
Aims to Loosen Limits on Suits: Statutes of Limitations on Sex-Abuse Cases
Often Leave Victims with No Options, by Dave Janoski, Times Leader
and Accusations, Times Leader (7/9/06) [summaries, assignments, and
photos of accused priests]
Church Re-Educates Itself: Changing Attitudes: The Catholic Church Has
Mandated Special Training to Recognize Sexual Abuse and Abusers, by
Mark Guydish, Times Leader (7/9/06)
Note from the Newsroom: the Church Series, by Matt Golas, Times Leader
Back in his office after comforting a bereaved family, Father Gerald J.
Gurka turned his attention to a matter even more unsettling than loss
of life – the loss of innocence that accompanied the priest sex scandal.
"My initial feeling? I was angry," Gurka, who is pastor of St.
John the Baptist Church in Larksville, said late last month. "I don't
want to judge, but I got angry that people would use their position to
knowingly do something that hurts another human being.
|Father Bob Timchak says goodbye to fourth-grade
students Stephanie Provost, 9, and Victoria Herbener, 10, on the last
day of class at Transfiguration School in West Hazleton last month.
Timchak and other priests who are untainted by scandal say they have
felt hurt and troubled by the misdeeds of other clergymen. Timchak,
for his part, wishes the media would stop 'bringing it up and bringing
it up.' Times Leader staff photo / Pete G. Wilcox.
"It hurt the church. It hurt the parishioners. It hurt everyone."
The secrecy with which the hierarchy handled many cases – shuttling suspect
priests from one assignment to the next – only made a bad situation worse,
"Secrecy isn't healthy. Any awareness is a step in the right direction,"
said the 51-year-old priest who grew up in Nanticoke. "You have to
admit what's happening first.
"Whenever a scandal breaks, I announce (in church) what has hit the
headlines and say we need to pray for all involved. We pray for healing
for the victim, proper guidance and direction for the perpetrator, and,
if it's unclear what happened, we pray for justice."
Gurka is glad the Scranton Diocese is taking steps to protect children
– mandating that every adult who works with youngsters go through the
VIRTUS program, which teaches people how to recognize signs that a child
is being abused or that an adult has a tendency to abuse.
"I think it's a good, positive step."
On an optimistic note, the priest believes a stronger, healthier church,
with safeguards in place to protect children, can emerge from the scandal.
"I think of Noah and the rainbow after the great flood, and Jesus'
resurrection from the dead.
"I think God's spirit re-creates. It's the whole point of cross and
resurrection. If it's handled correctly, new life comes after the pain."
For some priests and a future priest – all untainted by scandal – the
pain is still fresh.
"If (the abuse) is by your brother priest, it hurts you," said
Father Bob Timchak, who has just begun a one-year leave of absence after
serving as pastor at Transfiguration Church in West Hazleton and Saints
Peter and Paul Church in Hazleton. "Priests are like policemen. We
have a common bond.
"Fortunately, there aren't as many stories that come out now, but
whenever one does, it hits you, because that's what you are and that's
what you've given your life to."
Timchak feels some frustration when old scandals come to light because
the casual observer might incorrectly assume it's a new scandal breaking.
"We just want to get beyond this instead of bringing it up and bringing
"We don't want to go near children. Priests are terrified of
Seminarian David Bechtel
St. Nicholas Church in Wilkes-Barre
Seminarian David Bechtel, assigned to St. Nicholas Church in Wilkes-Barre
this summer, agrees. "I think it gives the illusion that it's something
happening today, when in fact these cases are old."
Bechtel hasn't been ordained yet, but he's already concerned the scandal
could have a negative effect on his future ministry.
"I don't want to go near kids," he said. "I don't like confessionals
because we don't go into the box anymore, we go face-to-face behind closed
doors. What's to prevent a false accusation?
"Years ago, if there was a youth function, you might give a child a
ride home afterwards. You might wait with them until the parents came. But
not today. You're not going to wait with them alone.
"When I was at St. Mary's, other seminarians were in line with what
I was saying. We don't want to go near children. Priests are terrified of
Father Gerard Safko, who led a recent VIRTUS training session at St. Mary's
Church in Montrose, understands the dread, but said it would be unfortunate
if clergy were to shy away from appropriate relationships with children.
Gurka, who recently directed a large cast of children and adults in the
annual Passion play at St. John the Baptist Church, likewise hopes priests
won't stop trying to be positive role models for young parishioners.
When he was a youth, he thought about devoting his life to veterinary science
or creative writing. Architecture interested him, too. But he felt inspired
by the priest and sisters he met at school and at church. He wanted to influence
people the way they did, and the call proved irresistible.
"They really loved God a lot. Several were quite young and had worked
in missions in Africa. They made me want to learn the Bible and learn to
love God. The honest truth is, I thought, 'Wow, if we could do that for
other people …'?"
[Sidebar:] Impact of the Scandal
Did the priest sex scandal turn Catholics away from their church?
A new study reported in the New York Times in May [Study
Sees Church Rebounding from Scandal, by Laurie Goodstein, NY Times
(5/18/06)] found that American Catholic participation in church life and
satisfaction with church leaders dropped noticeably at the height of the
scandal in 2002, but has rebounded. Few left the church, while most attend
Mass and donate to their parishes at pre-scandal levels.
The exception: Diocesan annual appeals. In 2002, 38
percent of American Catholics contributed to such appeals. In 2005, 29
Times Leader Staff Writer Mark Guydish contributed to this report.