Area Catholics Rely on Faith during Scandal
No Local Priests under Investigation, but Incidents Have Occurred

By Jeff Burlew
Tallahassee Democrat
April 20, 2002

Local Roman Catholics are hopeful that next week's meeting in Rome between Pope John Paul II and American cardinals will lead to serious reform within the church.

News accounts of molestations by priests and subsequent coverups by church officials have been the topics of sermons and conversations, prompting reactions of sadness and anger -- and optimism.

"It's obvious from the Holy Father calling the cardinals to Rome, we're heading into some serious reform," said Monsignor C. Slade Crawford of the Co-Cathedral of St. Thomas More. "The church is resilient, and it's not because of the institution. It's because of the word of God."

Taz Colao, a member of Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church, said he, too, thinks the meeting will lead to changes in the way the church handles sexual abuse allegations. But Colao said he has been angered by the way the church has responded to some of the allegations.

"It just makes me mad when anybody abuses children or anybody else, and it's just swept under the rug," he said. "I want to see people held accountable for what they do, whether they're church members or not."

There is good news for local Catholics reeling from the sexual abuse scandal. No priests within the Pensacola-Tallahassee Diocese are under investigation for alleged molestation, according to Monsignor Michael Mooney, spokesman for the diocese. The diocese encompasses 18 North Florida counties and includes some 60 priests, 60 churches and 70,000 parishioners.

But there have been problems in the past.

In 1997, the Rev. David McCreanor of St. Louis Catholic Church resigned after it was alleged he sexually and emotionally abused teen-age girls. McCreanor denied the allegations, and no charges were filed. That same year, the Rev. Rick Castillo, a priest who worked in Tallahassee and Quincy, admitted to sexually abusing four teen-age boys. Castillo was not prosecuted because the statute of limitations had expired.

After abuses were reported in the 1990s, the diocese implemented several measures. They include a response team to investigate allegations and an independent board to review the church's response to the allegations; fingerprinting and background checks for all church workers and priests; and mandatory workshops for church officials who work with children that are designed to help them spot and stop abuse.

"We're trying to do the best we can," Mooney said. "We have made every effort that we think we should make. And we're always open to recommendations from anyone."

Mooney pointed out that the vast majority of Catholic priests would never harm a child.

"I've been deeply hurt and angry that brother priests would be guilty of the different charges that have been made against them," he said. "I'm also cognizant of the fact that there are approximately 98 percent of us throughout the nation who are doing excellent work and who are committed to the priesthood."

Not everyone, however, is satisfied that the church is doing all it can to stop priests from sexually abusing children. Judy Gross, a Tallahassee woman who said she was physically abused by a priest, said the church has not been forthcoming with information about money paid to quietly settle abuse allegations.

"Until that happens, it's all smoke and mirrors," said Gross, who wrote about her experience recently in a Tallahassee Democrat guest column. "I don't think they've been open and honest. We're grown up. Tell us the truth. Let's face it and go on. Until you do, there will never be any healing."

Monsignor Crawford, who said the church should reach out to the victims, finds comfort in the words of Jesus Christ.

"I believe his promise that he will be with us until the last day," Crawford said. "And in that context, it's not going to shake us. It's going to make us stronger."


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