Parishioners express anger at sex abuse cover-up but reaffirm faith

| Susan Klemond | September 7, 2018 | 0 Comments

Voicing concern about Church hierarchy accountability and fear that clergy sex abuse and cover-up might prevent their children and grandchildren from embracing the Catholic faith, about 50 parishioners came together at a Sept. 5 listening session at St. Joseph the Worker in Maple Grove.

Along with sharing thoughts, feelings and ideas for solutions to the crisis, attendees sang and prayed at the 90-minute session led by Barry Shay, the parish’s faith formation and youth ministry coordinator.

Pastor Mike Sullivan told The Catholic Spirit that he and the parish staff decided to hold the session after parishioners asked him to address last month’s release of a Pennsylvania grand jury report detailing clergy sex abuse over seven decades, and a recent letter by former papal nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, alleging sexual misconduct cover-up among high-ranking Church prelates.

Father Sullivan said he wanted to give parishioners an opportunity to share ideas for solutions, which he planned to pass on to local Church leaders.

“They recognize what they think is a disparity between what the Church does and what their place of employment has to do,” he said of his parishioners, in terms of reporting and handling claims of misconduct. “That’s why they’re pushing back and saying, ‘Why is this happening in the Church yet?’”

Describing feelings of devastation and confusion about moving forward as a Church, attendees talked about Church institutionalism and corruption problems. Some cited reluctance to continue financial contributions while others questioned clergy celibacy.

“There needs to be an accounting for the evil that’s been done,” said Susan Rivard, 71. “There are priests and bishops and cardinals and the pope who need to resign or … be behind bars.”

Michelle Bartley, 58, questioned whether the Church should continue supporting those found guilty.

“I don’t think it makes anyone comfortable to know that some of the priests that were removed from their positions, including [former] Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, were told to rest and pray, to know they’re still continuing to get their pension,” she said. “If any other employee broke a contract with their employer they would lose their pension.”

Tyler Crawford, 33, said he’s concerned for his three young children’s safety and is frustrated about the apparent cover-up.

“What’s difficult about what’s happening right now is, if I felt like they [Church leaders] were saying, ‘We’re lost. What do we do here?’ I could deal with that,” he said. “I can’t justify watching them hide it.”

In the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, Church leaders encourage anyone with allegations of sexual abuse to contact law enforcement before contacting Church authorities. In an Aug. 31 statement, Archbishop Bernard Hebda reiterated the local Church’s commitment to child safety and outlined numerous safety and accountability measures that are in place to protect children.

Lucienne Fru-tilong, 49, said the crisis hasn’t changed her faith. “On the contrary, I feel stronger,” she said. “These are the moments when we have to identify who wants to destroy the Church. We are all victims. … It’s our Church. We shouldn’t let them destroy our Church.”

Attendees were encouraged to write letters to Church leaders and get involved in healing circles forming at the parish to help Catholics process feelings about the crisis.

“What even some of the bishops have forgotten is we are people of light, and we have the light to light up the darkness,” said Shay, 57. “Let us always remember who we are in Christ.”

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