|Cary Clack: Men of God Stand Accused, but So Do Accusers
San Antonio Express-News
September 28, 2010
One night, a few years ago, when a young man walked into a Catholic Church on San Antonio's West Side, it was more akin to Daniel walking into the lions' den than David facing Goliath.
Those Biblical references are used because of what Bishop Eddie Long, superstar pastor of megachurch New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in suburban Atlanta said on Sunday morning. For the first time, Long responded publicly to four lawsuits filed by young men who allege that Long lured them into sexual relationships when they were teens.
Long said he wasn't a perfect man and that he would fight the charges, but, curiously, what he never said was that he was innocent or that the young men are lying. Not once did he take the opportunity to deny the charges. But he did compare himself to David up against Goliath and said that he still had five stones to throw.
Most of Long's congregation are standing by him and doing some denying he himself hasn't done, and that's to be expected. He's their pastor to whom they've entrusted their spiritual needs, and they should demand to see more proof before deciding on his innocence or guilt.
But the same suspension of judgment they want for Long, they should also reserve for the young men before dismissing, outright, the allegations.
The San Antonio man at the beginning of this column, was 33 years old when he sat, in a back pew of the church in 1998, as he was being denounced by angry parishioners. They didn't know it was him they were denouncing. They only knew that a stranger had gone to the press to accuse their priest of sexually assaulting him and others when they were teenage altar boys.
The priest had been relieved of his duties, and on this night Monsignor Lawrence Steubben was in the church fielding angry questions from about 150 people.
The young man sat in a back pew and felt a rage building inside of him as he repeatedly heard himself being called a liar until he couldn't take it any longer. He got up and walked down the center aisle, and as he drew closer to the front of the church, heads turned.
He faced the parishioners and told them his story about being abused by their priest in another parish. For more than two decades he didn't talk about the abuse and would push aside the anger when it arose.
But two weeks earlier, while talking to a friend who also said he'd been abused by the priest, they decided to go see Archbishop Patrick Flores.
"We told them our story; they believed us," he said.
(Before the priest met with the archbishop, he fled to Mexico. More allegations against him would be unearthed.)
His voice breaking, the young man was frequently interrupted by angry questions and accusations. In tears, he retreated to the sacristy where he was comforted by Steubben. By then, he'd won over some of the parishioners, some crying themselves.
What he said then about his disbelievers and the allegations against their priest in that San Antonio church can be said about those in the Atlanta-area church and the allegations against their pastor.
"This was a man who took care of them and prayed for them," he said. "And there was no way they could look at him like that."
If Bishop Long has been falsely accused, then he has been grievously and irreparably wronged.
If the young men are telling the truth, then he has grievously and irreparably harmed them.
But someone has thrown a stone and drawn blood.
Cary Clack's column appears on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. To leave a message, call 210-250-3486 or e-mail email@example.com
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