Families torn by abuse turn away from church

By Morgan Green
Santa Barbara News-Press
December 5, 1993

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The message from the pulpit of St. Anthony's Seminary chapel advises forgiveness and spiritual healing on this first Sunday after church officials admitted that 11 priests molested boys in their care.

But none of the people wounded most by the abuse, the church's long silence and their fellow parishioners' initial disbelief and scorn will hear a single word of the message.

The victims and their families no longer come to Mass.

"I pretty much define the Christian God as Satan," said one victim who also was a member of the chapel's small congregation of Santa Barbara families.

Others not directly touched by the scandal will listen this morning and remember priests they loved, trusted and entertained in their homes. And they will wonder; was he one of the molesters the church acknow[l]edges but refuses to name? They'll also recall the victims, several of them the children of dear friends and neighbors in the city.

Father John Hardin traveled from the Franciscan Province headquarters in Oakland to utter reconciliatory words this morning.

But a mother cannot bring herself to travel across town to the chapel on the campus where her son was sexually molested

"We tried for several years but it was too painful—when you go to Mass and come home and you're sick all day.... We certainly have not lost our faith in God, but we're no longer practicing as Catholics," she said.

The congregation was torn apart by rumors and whispered suspicions after one priest was convicted of molestation in 1989. Then, the seminary's last rector confessed in 1992 to abusing a boy before the school closed in 1987.

Some church members began demanding a formal church investigation, suspecting other abuse.

"Some people got miffed and said we were witchhunting, remembered Ray Munana, a leader of a church members' support group that pressed for and ultimately got the Franciscan Order to launch a probe.

The demands for an investigation seemed impudent and the implication that well-known priests were child abusers appeared outrageous to some of the more traditional-minded members of the congregation.

"There was a group that simply found it hard to accept," said Father Alberic Smith, the pastor of the Greater St. Anthony's community, which is like a parish.

Reactions "ranged from being in denial, to others who just said, 'Well, it's so unpleasant, I'm not going to get involved,'" he said.

"Some have been somewhat cold or critical of others who spoke out."

The criticism stopped with a wave of shock at the Franciscans' Monday admission to investigators' wrenching documenta[t]ion of massive abuse.

"I have to admit I was one of the doubters," said a woman who asked not to be identified. "This was a pretty big shock. None of us were aware to the extent of it."

It remains to be seen whether time heals shattered relationships among congregation members.

Some still resent the investigation's public nature. One woman said: "The board of inquiry was a good thing. But we could have gone through with it, but not make it quite so public and still have accomplished what they wanted."

For some, the church can no longer be trusted.

Church officials' initial resistance to investigate "did not affect my personal faith in God," said Munana, "But it has impacted my personal faith in the Catholic Church ... the authority, the hierarchy, the clergy.

"The board of inquiry investigation did not take place until the community stepped forward and said enough."

Smith said he hopes that chapel members will forget their differences and look to the future.

He plans a congregation meeting in January to discuss how members can reach out to victims and their families. He also hopes the families will join in chapel-sponsored talks on lobbying for changes in laws that limit the time after child abuse that offenders can be prosecuted.

"The biggest job now is to reach out to those who were hurt," Smith said.

Only time will tell whether that does any good, because so far no victim families have hinted they want to be reached, he said.


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