Catholic Church in Crisis
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JIM LEHRER: In recent days, American Catholic Cardinals have returned from their Vatican meetings with the Pope to face their flock. Elizabeth Brackett of WTTW-Chicago spent time this weekend with one of them.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: At an airport news conference shortly after his return to Chicago, Cardinal Francis George began to try and explain the recommendations from the conference. The most controversial recommendation: Only priests who are serial sexual offenders should be immediately removed from the priesthood.
CARDINAL FRANCIS GEORGE: I understand some people are saying that because we didn’t agree on a so-called zero-tolerance policy, it was not a success, but in fact, it wasn’t our job to agree on that. We talked to the Holy Father, his own pain and anxiety about the situation was made extremely clear.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: He said little about the controversy that afternoon, as he consecrated a new church building at the predominantly Hispanic Holy Family Church in Waukegan. But many parishioners we spoke to had hoped for a zero tolerance policy from the Cardinals. Parishioner Lilly Valadez had watched the conference closely.
LILLY VALADEZ: I actually thought they were going to do something like a, maybe zero tolerance, you know, since they traveled to Rome, I thought it was going to be something more dramatic.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Did that disappoint you or not?
LILLY VALADEZ: It’s a very hard issue and to think that a priest sexually abusing children, it’s just very hard to understand.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: It was the interpretation of zero tolerance that troubled Cardinal George.
CARDINAL FRANCIS GEORGE: What does a zero tolerance policy mean? What do they mean by that? So anything like this you’re on the streets? I think you have to take it case by case. If the perpetrator feels some remorse, you can do a lot of things. If he feels absolutely no remorse, then he should be in protective custody not only in jail until the term runs out, but after that — protected, so he can’t harm anybody if you have somebody who in a sense is reformable, well then other forms of monitoring are possible.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Priests received strong support at Holy Family, influenced perhaps by the extraordinary actions of their Pastor, Reverend Gary Graf, who had just donated part of his liver to save a parishioner’s life.
REV. GARY GRAF: Even as the sins of the very, very, very few priests bring us shame, so also today the good deeds and the self sacrifice of a very, very, very good priest, your Pastor, Father Gary, brings us all great pride.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Parishioner Auscencio Quiroz strongly supports the Cardinal.
AUSCENCIO QUIROZ: I think he’s being in a very strong side. He’s supporting what the Pope is trying to push through, and I agree with them that he’s saying that it’s a crime what the priests are doing, and we’re going to support them in any way possible.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Members of the church had a harder time with the question of what to do about priests who had sexually abused children years ago. Parishioner, Pastor Martinez.
PASTOR MARTINEZ: That’s really hard, really hard to say. It needs to be dealt with from within their parish. From my experience I couldn’t say, I could not say what should be done with that person.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Some of the archdiocesan priests had hoped for a stronger statement from the Cardinals. Father Esquiel Sanchez directs the archdiocese office for Hispanic Catholics.
FATHER ESQUIEL SANCHEZ, Chicago Archdiocese: What I would have like to have heard was no tolerance for pedophilia at all, and all of us feel that way, because it affects us so badly.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: And no tolerance would mean?
FATHER ESQUIEL SANCHEZ: No tolerance that as soon as we hear of a case that someone who has exercised in sexual misconduct with a minor, with a child, has no place in the priesthood. You cannot exercise public ministry with that background, because the priesthood is a public ministry. You’re consistently public, the size of this church, our churches are huge, 400 or 500 people at a time and more so than that. And so it’s hard to have a moral voice when you have that kind of background.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: On Sunday at a northwest suburban parish’s 100th anniversary celebration, again the Cardinal touched only briefly on the Rome meetings.
SPOKESMAN: The only good thing about this terribly shameful period that we find ourselves, is that perhaps there is a chance to speak words that tell the world who we are as Christ’s people. It is very, very hard to explain how it is that one can be out of the ministry, but not out of the priesthood.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Dorothy Petraitis has rarely missed a Sunday at St. James. She was concerned that Cardinal George had put too much emphasis on priests and not enough on victims.
DOROTHY PETRAITIS: I think before he rejects zero tolerance, he ought to look at all the issues involved in that. What I read in the paper today he is looking at how the Church might support priests who have been accused, and, you know, I hope they do that. At the same token, I’ve worked with those who were sexually abused, not by priests, but in the general population, and it is an awful thing to happen. So I hope that they take into account not only looking after the priests, but also looking after victims.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: The Cardinal had been sharply criticized by the National Organization for Women in Chicago after appearing to underestimate the trauma of young girls sexual abuse by priests. But the Cardinal says he was painfully aware of the violation of trust in any sexual abuse.
CARDINAL FRANCIS GEORGE: That’s the horror of that abuse and every other abuse. For the most part, it’s done by people whom they have come to trust and like. It’s not strangers who do this, it’s people in their families, it’s the teacher, it’s the priest; it’s the leader of the youth group. They know these people. This is not rape in the sense that, it is statutory rape, but I mean, it’s not as if they’re taken by violence on the street. All these cases, they betrayed trust. These are people that trusted. That’s the horror of it.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: At St. James’ Parish, Jenny Quinn wanted to see more steps taken to combat that horror.
JENNY QUINN: I have actually have two friends who are considering leaving for good as a result of what’s happening here, and I think that, that he needs to know that. That he is losing young people and young people are the future of the Church. And I think if he really is smart, he’ll be as aggressive as he possibly can be and send the right message so that young people stay with the Church and aren’t ashamed to say that they’re Catholic.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: The Cardinal’s are hearing that, says George, and will do whatever it takes to heal the wounds when the bishops meet to finalize sexual abuse policies in June.
CARDINAL FRANCIS GEORGE: If people want one strike and you’re on the streets, we’ll do that. We’ll do that. That’s a pastoral response to the feeling of people. But we’ve got a few months, let’s think it through so that some kind of considered response is possible. If it isn’t possible in order to restore pastoral confidence of the people in the priests and Bishops, that’s the way well go, and we’ve all said that. And if that’s what people want and they insist that that’s the only way that this can be handled, that’s what we will do. I’m saying I don’t, at this point personally think, we should not do that without asking a couple more questions.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Parishioners and clergy will be closely watching the June Bishop’s meeting in Dallas.