Editorial: Local Priest Asking the Right Questions

Sheboygan Press
June 27, 2010

[Rev. James Connell's letter]

"How would I behave today if I had been the victim of sexual abuse by a priest when I was a minor?"

The Rev. James Connell, pastor of Holy Name and St. Clement Catholic churches in Sheboygan, says he asked himself that very question as he pondered how the Catholic Church has dealt with clergy abuse.

Subsequently, it prompted him to challenge church leaders.

In a 10-page open letter last week, Connell questioned whether children in the La Crosse Catholic Diocese might still be at risk because the diocese uses a standard of proof in sexual abuse cases that makes it harder for victims to prove they were abused. Connell notes that the diocese, which was headed by now-Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome Listecki, exonerated clergy 64 percent of the time, compared to a national average of just 10 percent.

Connell said his decision to go public came after months of unsuccessful attempts to get church leaders to change the policy he questioned.

Connell also asks:

"Why is it so difficult for the leaders of the Catholic Church to do the right thing?"

Asking these questions could not have been an easy decision for Connell, nor making public his concerns. But we think his actions will end up being of great help to the church as it deals with issues of clergy abuse.

It is hard to argue with those who contend the Catholic Church has spent too much of its time and effort protecting the image of the church rather than helping the victims of sexual abuse by priests to heal.

Connell has met with the leaders of the group, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, who last fall accused him of participating in a cover-up of abuse by Father Lawrence Murphy an allegation that Connell vehemently denies to learn from them how the church needs to respond and begin the process of healing.

Connell is being scorned and criticized by some for bringing his concerns to public attention. But the church should be listening to someone who has knowledge of church law and who has served on the Milwaukee Archdiocese's sex abuse review board.

Connell is also doing more than just asking questions. He is working to help the victims of abuse by forming a priest group that meets regularly with victims to hear from them what the church needs to do to help them.

This is a most important ministry.

If the Catholic Church is to survive the scandal of clergy abuse, it must not only look deeply and objectively into how it mishandled abuse allegations in the past, but also whether the process of investigating abuse claims isn't unfair to victims.

It should also be listening to concerns raised by Father Connell and others in the clergy.


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