Friday, March 22, 2002

Pope's comment welcome locally

Priests, residents commend Vatican for speaking on abuse issue

By Richelle Thompson
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Since accusations of sexual misconduct by priests hit the news, JoAnne Hudek-Dole has searched the Vatican Web site for comment from Pope John Paul II.

        She came up empty — and disappointed — until Thursday, when the pope broke his silence and said the scandal cast a “dark shadow of suspicion” over all priests.

John Paul
John Paul
        “It's important to know he recognizes it as a problem,” said the Hamilton woman. “The Catholic church is all one family, and this is the head of the family paying attention to (the problem).”

        Local Catholics applauded the pope's willingness to publicly address the widespread accusations of sexual misconduct, even though some said the statement came a little late.

        “My first reaction was, "It's about time,'” said Evelyn Roenker, 71 of Erlanger. “This has been kept so secret, and now everybody wants to talk all at once. It doesn't seem right.”

        The pope's comments come months after allegations surfaced in Boston, Los Angeles and other parts of the country. Last week, the Most Rev. Daniel E. Pilarczyk said fewer than five priests in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati serve in priestly roles, despite having substantiated claims of abuse.

        The Diocese of Covington said three of its 110 priests remain in assignment after allegations of misconduct with teens.

        These accusations breed an environment of distrust and sense of betrayal among Catholics and make it harder for priests to do their job, acknowledged the Rev. Joe Robinson of St. Boniface in Northside.

        As a priest, “you're trying to bring peace and God's love, and these things (the sexual abuse) work against that,” said Father Robinson, who thought the issue was important enough to address in Sunday's sermon.

        The pope has the moral authority to tell the church and the world, “We can't continue with business the way it was,” said the Rev. Jeff Kemper, dean of Mount St. Mary's Seminary at the Athenaeum of Ohio.

        The message also serves as a wake-up call to all priests, he said. “It's an opportunity for priests to examine themselves, to make sure they're living the Gospel as they should be.”

        Martin Fox welcomes the pope's call for all priests to live holy lives.

        A fourth-year seminary student, Mr. Fox said the recent scandals strengthened his resolve to be faithful to God's call and laws.

        “Those priests and Christians who model grace ... they're the ones who will correct this problem,” he said. “It's a black eye and everyone knows that, but as people see men and women of faith living their faith, that's the answer.”

        The scandals make the job harder, said Mr. Fox, who hopes to be ordained as a priest next year. But it's all a matter of perspective.

        “They used to throw us to the lions.”


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