Friday, April 4, 2003

Catholics urged to get involved to safeguard kids



By Marie McCain
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[photo] David Clohessy cries as he listens to Jim Post, Voice of the Faithful national president discuss problems in the church.
(Jeff Swinger photo)
| ZOOM |
DAYTON, Ohio - More than a year ago, Mike Knellinger gave up his job as a basketball coach at Kettering Alter High School after allegations surfaced that a priest at the school may have been involved in sexual misconduct.

"I got angry, and I couldn't stay employed for the Archdiocese knowing that these things happened," he said during a news conference Thursday in Dayton. "My love for young people made me see that somebody has to stand up and do something."

Along with Kris Ward, another Dayton-area Catholic fed up with the sex scandals plaguing the Catholic Church, Knellinger founded a local chapter of Voice of the Faithful.

Ward and Knellinger - along with Jim Post, Voice of the Faithful national president, and David Clohessy, executive director of the Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests - joined forces Wednesday to urge more Catholics to get involved in their local dioceses.

Since news about the various sex scandals within the Catholic Church first made headlines 15 months ago, Voice of the Faithful, a Boston based advocacy group, has seen its numbers swell. About a year ago, according to Post, the group had only a handful of members. Now it boasts more than 30,000 members nationwide.

Post said the group has three major objectives:

• Spotlight clergy sexual abuse.

• Support the integrity of priests who are not sex offenders.

• Break through the veil of secrecy that has shrouded the Catholic Church's finances and made it possible for the church to finance secret settlements in abuse cases.

"For the last 15 months - in diocese after diocese - there have been systematic attempts to cover up these allegations," he said. "People have been kept in the dark. By shining a spotlight on this, more and more Catholics can see what's going on and do something about it."

Clohessy added that involvement is one of the best ways to help fight clergy abuse. It also helps to ensure that abuse doesn't take place.

"The real enemy, the real culprit in all of this is secrecy, and it ends when the lay Catholics - fathers, mothers, grandparents, et cetera - choose to get involved," Clohessy said.

A prayer service at the University of Dayton's Chapel of the Immaculate Conception followed the news conference, as well as a roundtable discussion about how regular people can become more effective and more active within their dioceses.

Post suggests that each diocese start oversight committees, staffed by laity, which will be responsible for parish finances and safety.

A finance council, he said, would be able to determine how money is spent and be aware when funds are used in a way that might help cover up abuse allegations.

A safety committee, Post added, would focus on screening the credentials of anyone, including a parish priest, who works with children.

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.

E-mail mmccain@enquirer.com




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