Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Catholics Grapple With Divisions Over Abuse

This is an article from Sunday's New York Times. I find many aspects of this fascinating, not only the sex abuse angle, but the Extraordinary Church and Ordinary Church angle too. You've got to love the Catholic Church. It is pungent with intrigue, sin and redemption, not to mention good and bad taste, abuse and healing, the demonic and angelic. Satan really despises us and yes the demonic is real, but God's power overcomes. This confounds the world and I suspect the New York Times! It confounds the critics of the Church even in our own ranks!

It is a long article:

By PAUL VITELLO, New York Times
Published: December 20, 2009


NORWALK, Conn. — Thousands of Masses were celebrated this year in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Bridgeport. But two of them, within a few weeks and a few miles of each other in this diverse commuter-line city, hinted at the tangled emotions still dividing many Catholics almost eight years after the start of a scandal that has confronted the church with its greatest crisis in the modern era.

At St. Jerome Church on Half Mile Road, priests celebrated a Holy Mass of Reconciliation in June for people anywhere who had suffered sexual abuse at the hands of a priest. Though church authorities across the country have paid billions of dollars in legal settlements, advocates for abuse victims said it was one of the few Masses for victims ever held in the United States.

The same month, at St. Mary Church on West Avenue, hundreds of people participated in a requiem Mass for the Rev. Alfred J. Bietighofer, a beloved parish priest who committed suicide in 2002 after four men accused him of molesting them when they were boys.

The diocese has been hit hard by the sex abuse scandal, paying more than $37 million to settle claims. This month, the court-ordered release of 12,000 pages of documents generated by those claims refocused attention on one of the most painful allegations: that officials of the Bridgeport Diocese, like many others, kept parishioners in the dark for years about predatory priests in their midst.

Yet, after years of public scrutiny, lawsuits and quarrels at the dinner table, parishioners here say a kind of armistice has been reached between those who are still angry about it and those who are tired of talking about it.

There are people in both camps at St. Mary’s and St. Jerome’s, parishioners said in recent interviews. They work side by side at the food pantry, on the raffle committee and at meetings of the Ladies Guild; they simply avoid the subject around others with different views.

“The most important thing we have is our community, and that’s what has to be preserved,” said Jeanne Tarrant, a longtime member of St. Jerome’s. “There are people who feel differently than I do about the abuse — and about a lot of other things — but I don’t try to change them, and they don’t try to change me.”

In that spirit, the two summer Masses — one for victims, one for an accused priest — went almost unnoticed outside the ranks of those who celebrated them. But one group that cared deeply is Voice of the Faithful, a nationwide organization of Catholic parishioners who banded together after the scandal broke to advocate for abuse victims and more transparency in church affairs.

When a longtime member of St. Jerome’s asked his pastor, the Rev. David Blanchfield, to offer a special Mass for the victims of abuse, Father Blanchfield said he did so without hesitation “because, obviously, it needed to be done.”

But John Marshall Lee, a Voice of the Faithful leader in Connecticut, said the Mass for the deceased priest at St. Mary’s raised questions for some Catholics.

“People who were upset over the Mass for Bietighofer had no objection to saying a Mass for the man,” said Mr. Lee, who belongs to neither parish. “It was that St. Mary’s didn’t also have a Mass for the victims. That seemed odd.”

He asked the pastor there, the Rev. Greg Markey, to offer a Mass for victims, but Father Markey declined. No member of his parish had asked him for such a service, the pastor said, and none had expressed objections to Father Bietighofer’s Mass, which he described as “not a celebration of the life of a predator, but a Mass to pray for a man’s soul.”

People in the parish loved Father Bietighofer, Father Markey said. No one could know for sure whether he had abused anyone. But whether he did or did not, Father Markey said, “he served this parish well for many years.”

For many Catholics, differences over the sex abuse crisis are rooted in deeper, older tensions in the church — between tradition and reform, between parishes like St. Mary’s, with its Latin Masses, and St. Jerome’s, where parishioners playing electric guitar and drums accompany the choir.

Father Markey, a self-described conservative Catholic, upset some parishioners soon after he became pastor of St. Mary’s two years ago by deciding to phase out girls from the ranks of the altar servers. Those in place could stay, the pastor decided, but he reasoned that girls cannot become priests, and altar service should be a gateway to a potential vocation in the priesthood.

The traditional Latin Mass he introduced about the same time is one of the few offered in the state, and has drawn worshipers from a 50-mile radius.

To conservatives like Father Markey, abuses committed in the 1960s and after reflect the “moral decline” of those freewheeling times, the effects of the Second Vatican Council’s liberalization of church rules and the church’s failure to weed out gay men in the priesthood.

“There is a sense that a lot of what happened — not all of it, but a lot — had to do with lapses of theological orthodoxy and the decline of moral life that went with it,” Father Markey said.

Bishop William E. Lori of the Bridgeport Diocese has adopted measures that he says will protect children from future abuse.

To more liberal-leaning Catholics like Father Blanchfield, the abuses reflect a failure to keep up with the times by bringing more diversity — women and lay people in particular — into the church’s decision-making process. People with broad life experience, he said, would more likely have spotted the “psychosexual” problems of those priests who abused.

Both Father Markey and Father Blanchfield agree on at least one point: They are weary of the unrelenting publicity about sex abuse.

Parishioners at both churches said the issue still hovered but did not cast as dark a shadow as it once did. They said common bonds trumped their differing views about it — bonds of faith, mainly, but also connections forged in the prosaic, time-consuming commitments people make to serve on the Buildings and Grounds Committee, to chaperone Teen Night, to volunteer for the bereaved-parishioners dinner squad.

Jane Reichle, a member of St. Mary’s, said another bond was the sense of mourning people felt for the intimacy — once taken for granted and now under constant watch — between priests and parishioners.

Since 2002, Bishop William E. Lori of Bridgeport has adopted several measures, commonly used across the country, which he says are protecting children from future abuse by priests. The diocese has conducted background checks of more than 30,000 clerics, employees and volunteers; it has introduced an abuse-prevention course that 90,000 parishioners, clergy and staff members have completed. When accusations are made against priests, the bishop has said, the matter is turned over to the police.

At a confirmation ceremony at St. Jerome’s one recent Sunday, as a standing-room-only crowd of families looked on, Bishop Lori spoke to the 42 young confirmands about the importance of practicing their faith, then anointed each one, making the sign of the cross.

As the service entered its second hour, Jack Bellairs, 87, grandfather of Jordan Michael Bellairs, 13, snapped a picture with a disposable camera, then went outside to have a cigarette. He said he had “followed all that stuff, sure” in the newspapers about sex abuse. But this was a great day — seeing his grandson become a full-fledged member of the Catholic Church.

“Why?” he was asked.

“Why?” he repeated, seeming to find the question incomprehensible.

“Because I believe in life after death,” he said, blowing cigarette smoke in the rain. “And I want my grandson to be with me when I get there.”

A version of this article appeared in print on December 21, 2009, on page A25 of the New York edition.

3 comments:

Robert Kumpel said...

Father:

Your summary at the top says it all: SATAN REALLY DESPISES US.

The whole "Voice of the Faithless" crowd seems to have lost track of the Catechism and their craving to rewrite it is what keeps them on the fringe of the Church. How ANYONE can call themselves Catholic and not want Masses offered for another soul, especially one that they suspect may have committed serious sins, is beyond me. God's prescription for our sins is mercy. The Bible tells us that even when we are faithless, God is faithful. There is such a rank hypocrisy in the VOF obsession with "updating" the Church with "diversity" and "inclusiveness", yet they take it upon themselves to decide which priests have been dispatched to Hell! By all means, abusive priests should be removed, disciplined, and defrocked if necessary, BUT FOR HEAVEN'S SAKE, THEY NEED GOD'S MERCY TOO.

Yes, Satan despises the Catholic Church. So many of us have forgotten that every day on this earth is a day of battle for our souls. And in the realm of spiritual warfare, you cannot fight hate with hate. You become what you hate. The only way to fight hate is with God's love and mercy.

One final thought--one that we should think hard on. In the more extreme quarters of this country there are people who actually worship Satan. Do your readers know HOW they worship Satan? For the uninformed, they participate (and I mean "active participation") in a ritual called a Black Mass. The Black Mass is a blasphemous parody of Holy Mass. Why is that so significant? Because you will note that they do not perform a blasphemous parody of a Methodist service, Baptist service, Anglican service, Church of Christ service, Pentecostal service or any other Protestant style of worship. THEY ATTACK AND BLASPHEME THE CATHOLIC MASS AND THE SACRAMENTS.

James 2:19 reads: "Thou believest that there is one God. Thou dost well: the devils also believe and tremble." The devil knows where the power is. That is why he goes after the Church. That is why he sows divisions in the Church. That is why we have two generations of Catholics today who believe that Church law is "optional" and the Magisterium is an outdated "concept". That is why the devil's followers mock the Church. That is why the battle never ends.

Marc said...

I was not a Catholic during the height of the abuse scandals. However, as an onlooker and criminal defense attorney who has interacted with alleged and convicted sex offenders, it seems to me that there is a "chicken and egg" problem with the way most people look at these instances of abuse.

It seems many argue that celibacy is the problem or that "gay" priests are the problem. They seem to argue that, after becoming priests, the priest is then so "starved" as to become a predator.

I would think that, in many cases, many of these men became priests specifically (albeit subconsciously, perhaps) to be in a position to take advantage of their victims.

The timing of many of these instances of alleged abuse is interesting considering that many reports came at the beginning of a decline in those responding to the call to the priestly vocation after Vatican II, which could have led some diocese to lessen their "screening" process.

Coincidence? No: Satan really does despise the Caholic Church.

Templar said...

The book "Goodbye Good Men" came to press just as the abuse scandal in Boston was breaking, and as such was written almost entirely before any of it was common knowledge. It should be required reading for anyone hoping to come to terms with how, and why it came about. It is decidedly not about celibacy, but homosexuality, and the refusal of the Seminaries in the 60s and 70s to tackle head on, the nature of the disorder. In all too many cases it was not only ignored, but condoned and encouraged by some of the more heinous Seminaries.

Today's Seminarians are of different breed, thanks to the reforms initiated under HH Pope John Paul II.