Catholic Church Should Confess, Do Penance and Become Cleansed

By Bob Hill
Courier-Journal (Louisville, KY)
May 11, 2002

Although my faith now rests firmly on an amalgamation of basic, simplified - and strongly held - beliefs, I was confirmed a Catholic. It was a process without lasting effect. I was dropped into confirmation classes late, was embarrassed to be - by far - the biggest and oldest kid in those classes, and worked my way through them with a minimal sense of duty and understanding.

What I remember most of my Catholic years - and I was about 12 or 13 at the time - was going to confession. It always seemed like a pretty good deal. I could tell a priest my sins. He would listen, often without saying a word, then prescribe penance, a certain number of "Our Fathers" and/or "Hail Marys." I could walk home feeling cleansed - at least temporarily.

That confessional feeling has been dimmed for many Catholics as their church struggles painfully through so many allegations of sexual abuse by priests. The hardest thing is finding perspective; evaluating the evil of a few dwarfing the good of so many. Indeed, every religious denomination, every government body, sports group or social agency working with children is going through some worry and selfevaluation - or should be.

But the power of the church, my awe of a priest who could - in a sense - make my sins go away, was a lot for a 12-year-old to understand. It was the same awe and power felt by a man named Doug Dukes Jr., 49, who said he was about 12 years old when he and many of his friends were abused by the Rev. Arthur L. Wood while at St. Polycarp.

Dukes is one of the almost 40 people who have filed suit against the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Louisville, alleging sexual abuse by a priest or other employee of the archdiocese. He called me after speaking with a St. Polycarp classmate who said he also had been abused by Wood, who died in 1983. Dukes said he called because he wanted to try to explain, to give some needed perspective:

"Wood was very selective. He'd pick on kids whose parents weren't active in the church, or lived with a single parent.

"He would take four or five of us to the movies," Dukes said. "He'd pick us up, drop us off at Fourth Street movies, then take us to a place called Porky Pig on Preston for food.

"Wood was God and Santa Claus all rolled into one. He'd spend all that money, lavish attention on us. Plus he was a priest. I was crazy about the guy."

Dukes said Wood would often reach over and fondle some of the boys while all were in the car or would eventually get them alone. He said many of the older boys knew what was going on and joked openly at school about Wood. Dukes said the school administration had to know what was going on and did nothing.

The victims wouldn't - couldn't - tell their parents or complain to school officials. They didn't know how.

"We never even talked about it among ourselves," he said.

Dukes said the incidents did not affect his adult life, but in the last six months, as abuse stories became more prevalent, he decided to get his past into the open and help push the church into acknowledging its sins. One result was hearing from an abused classmate, who may also file a suit:

"He said he was $50,000 in debt and had been in and out of hospitals dealing with the abuse," Dukes said. "He said he was glad I went public. He said it would make it easier for other people."

Dukes did not want sympathy; he wanted people to know that abuse repeatedly took place, and how difficult it was for 12-yearolds to understand what was happening to them. He said going public - his confession, in a sense - has been a release, an "opportunity" to help.

So it should be with the Catholic Church, whose only chance of restoring faith is to openly and honestly confess all its sins, do penance, be cleansed.

But I still read and see too many indications that the church's upper hierarchy doesn't understand that. What more could it take?


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