Congregation Reacts to Priest's Removal

By Bryna Zumer
The View [Maryland]
April 10, 2007

Robert Donadio wasn't surprised to see an Archdiocese of Baltimore official as the celebrant when he went to Mass March 25. His parish, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, was used to prominent visitors.

"I just didn't think anything of it," Donadio said.

But at the close of the service, the officials announced a special meeting at 2 p.m. that day. When congregants gathered in the old parish center, they received the news that their pastor of 11 years, Monsignor Richard Smith, had been removed from ministry.

Smith was removed following reports of alleged abuse from two women when they were teenagers and Smith's admission to some of the allegations, archdiocese spokesman Sean Caine said.

Baltimore County police are investigating the allegations, which are said to have taken place 40 years ago at a parish in Baltimore County.

Since that meeting, parishioners such as Donadio have rallied behind Smith and struggled to deal with his sudden absence.

"We are very shocked," he said. "One thing that really impresses me more than anything is we are talking about sin, transgression, but at the same time, Monsignor Smith is a man of great integrity."

News of events 'devastating'

Ona Corkrin has coordinated Eucharistic adoration at the church for about eight years. Smith's removal and the allegations against him were a complete surprise to the church's members, she said.

"Nobody had a clue," she said. "It was devastating. It was a big punch in the belly."

Having worked closely with Smith over the years, she described him as a "wonderful" man.

"Monsignor, to me, was, and is, a very holy man. He loved the Lord with all his heart," Corkrin said.

The case against Smith began when two women told church officials that Smith had sexual interactions with them in 1966 or 1967, when they were about 15 years old. The alleged abuse took place while Smith was a priest at Our Lady of Perpetual Help parish in Woodlawn, now known as St. Gabriel parish.

While acknowledging the gravity of the allegations, parishioners seem united in feeling that the good works done by Smith should not be overlooked.

Jennifer Schuberth noted the many ways he helped "point our parish to Christ," such as establishing a weekly Eucharistic Holy Hour.

"I believe people feel badly for the woman who was hurt by this," Schuberth said. "People will remember him for the good things he did for our parish."

Donadio hopes the allegations do not translate into criminal proceedings against Smith and added that, personally, he would be more than happy to see Smith reinstated.

"As far as I am concerned, I wish there was some way out of this."

Parishioners lean on faith

The parish held a healing service March 30, but congregants generally seem far less concerned about their own future than that of Smith.

"A parish is not really identified by the pastor," Schuberth said. "Pastors may come and go through the years, but the people, the body of Christ, remain. The faith at Our Lady of Perpetual Help parish is strong. We will come through even stronger."

Corkrin said she is curious about who will replace Smith, but is not worried about it.

"I know God will send the right shepherd for us there. We just have to trust the Holy Spirit in this, like in everything," she said. "Our parish is going to go on because we are a family and families come together in times of crisis and are made stronger."



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