Thursday, April 3, 2003

Dayton Catholics seek openness

Groups evolving out of sex scandal sending leaders to speak

By Dan Horn
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Catholics in Dayton, Ohio, will launch a campaign today urging church leaders to be more open about sexual abuse scandals involving priests.

The campaign begins with a prayer service and meeting featuring the directors of two nationally known groups that have been critical of the Catholic church's response to abuse scandals across the country.

The meeting is one of the first significant attempts by Greater Cincinnati Catholics to organize their opposition to the church's handling of abuse cases.

The new activism reflects a national trend that began early last year when scandals in Boston and other cities outraged many Catholics. As in other cities, that activism has led to some tension with church officials.

"There have been multiple situations in this archdiocese that many of us don't feel have been properly addressed," said Mike Knellinger, the Dayton man who organized today's meeting. "I don't think they have been straightforward with information."

Knellinger became active in church issues after the Archdiocese of Cincinnati disclosed last year that it continued to employ five priests who had been accused of sexual misconduct. Since then, three other archdiocesan priests have been suspended or have voluntarily taken leave because of misconduct allegations.

Church officials have defended their handling of abuse allegations in Greater Cincinnati and say that the archdiocese was among the first in the country to set guidelines for how abuse cases should be handled.

But those steps have not satisfied critics, such as Knellinger, who insist the church can do more.

The events today include a 7 p.m. prayer service at the University of Dayton's chapel and an 8 p.m. meeting at the Marriott Hotel in Dayton.

The meeting will include remarks by Jim Post, director of Voice of the Faithful, and David Clohessy, director of the Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests (SNAP).

Clohessy said he's been encouraged by the willingness of Catholics like those in Dayton to become more active. "That's the single most encouraging development of this whole scandal, seeing lay people reclaim their churches and find their own voices," Clohessy said.

Knellinger has criticized church officials here for refusing to allow the Dayton chapter of Voice of the Faithful to meet on church property. He also questioned why Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk will not attend the meeting today.

Archdiocesan spokesman Dan Andriacco said the archbishop was not invited to the meeting until Tuesday and would not be able to change his schedule on such short notice.

Andriacco said the archbishop recently decided to allow the Cincinnati chapter of Voice of the Faithful to meet on church property. But he said the Dayton chapter has not been granted the same privileges.

"(The archbishop) has been satisfied that Voice of the Faithful in Cincinnati is not advocating anything contrary to the teachings of the church," Andriacco said. "He has not reached that point with Voice of the Faithful in Dayton."

Clohessy said tension between lay Catholics and church leaders has been common since the abuse scandals erupted last year.

The hope, he said, is that the emergence of new, vocal organizations like those in Dayton and Cincinnati will encourage church leaders everywhere to be more responsive to the concerns of their flocks.

"Bishops are gradually being forced to recognize that this issue is not going to go away," Clohessy said. "Lay people are more organized and determined than ever."


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