Monday, March 25, 2002

Messages address abuse by priests

By Cindy Kranz
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        As Catholics gathered Sunday for the beginning of Holy Week, the most solemn observation of the Christian calendar, priests nationwide addressed the sexual abuse scandal that has shaken the church and tainted some top leaders.

Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk leads a procession into St. Peter in Chains Cathedral Sunday
(Michael E. Keating photo)
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        “It's responsible to admit that pedophilia and other forms of abuse certainly do exist in the church,” the Rev. Tom Axe told hundreds of worshipers at The Community of the Good Shepherd Church in Symmes Township.

        “I also want to acknowledge that it is wrong to cover it up,” said Father Axe. “Bringing facts to light is the first step on the long road to healing.”

        Hamilton County prosecutors this week begin an unprecedented investigation into the allegations that priests in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati abused children.

        Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk has said the church had substantiated allegations of misconduct involving “fewer than five” priests in the 500,000-parishioner diocese. All of them remain in priestly roles.

        The local revelations follow a scandal in Boston, where the archdiocese failed to banish priests accused of child molestation. Such announcements, and investigations, have been repeated in parishes across the country, and dozens of priests — out of more than 47,000 nationwide — have been suspended or forced to resign.

        On Palm Sunday, archbishops and priests nationwide read messages, apologized, and prayed for church leaders and victims.

        “Not much can shock us in today's world, but in the past weeks we've seen things, heard things, and read things that we never would have dreamed of,” the Rev. Raymond Mann told parishioners at St. Anthony Shrine in Boston.

        In Denver, priests read aloud messages of apology and compassion from their archbishop. In Chicago, Houston, and Palm Beach, Fla., parishioners were given leaflets discussing the allegations.

        In many churches, the Palm Sunday sermons asked Catholics to take solace from the Easter story of faith's victory over suffering and evil.

        At St. Peter in Chains Cathedral in downtown Cincinnati, Auxiliary Bishop Carl Moeddel did not mention the scandal directly in his sermon Sunday.

        But during the Prayers of the Faithful, parishioners prayed for the local church and for the church wherever it has been torn by scandal, that the clergy may be renewed in their commitment to faithful service.

        Bishop Moeddel said later he did not address the issue because many pastors he talked with had done so last week.

        “I thought, "Well, let's not do this every Sunday,'” he said.

        Sunday's sermons and prayers come three days after Pope John Paul II broke his silence on the scandal, saying it cast a “dark shadow of suspicion over all the other fine priests who perform their ministry with honesty.”

        Although many Catholics were chagrined to hear sexual abuse discussed during the holy services, they acknowledged that something needed to be said.

        “It's important to let people know that the world is not coming to an end,” said Michael Kaminski, 25, who attended a service in Jackson, Miss.

        In other parts of the country, priests used the themes of suffering, frayed trust and redemption contained in the traditional Palm Sunday readings to address the church's current crisis.

        In Kentucky, the Rev. Jerome Britt, pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church in Burlington, called the current scandal one of the most dire situations for the U.S. church in this century.

        “The people responsible for these acts and those who allowed these acts to continue need to face the full extent of the consequences that are appropriate for this world,” Father Britt said Sunday. “As for the next world, that judgment is up to God.”

        Father Britt also likened the current ridicule and scorn that the church is receiving to that of Christ in his last days, saying that parishioners should remember that for all the potentially damaging things that might have happened, the church had done much more good.

        The clergy sex scandal exploded in Boston in January after newly released documents revealed that former priest John J. Geoghan had been moved from parish to parish following accusations of sexual abuse.

        Since then, the archdiocese has provided prosecutors with the names of about 80 priests accused of sexually abusing children over the past 40 years.

        At Community of the Good Shepherd, the largest church in Cincinnati's archdiocese with more than 12,000 members, Father Axe read his prepared statement before every weekend Mass.

        He asked for forgiveness of the church and prayers for everyone involved in the scandals.

        “I think the first order of business is praying for the victims and the survivors, praying for those who are often last mentioned,” Father Axe said. “It's like smoking, there are secondary victims, and that's all the rest of us.”

        The Associated Press, Enquirer reporter James Pilcher and Enquirer contributor Sarah Buehrle contributed to this report.


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