Thursday, March 11, 2004

Archbishop faces faithful at public forum

Pilarczyk apologizes often for church's lack of action

By Reid Forgrave
The Cincinnati Enquirer

DAYTON, Ohio - Standing before a crowd of 400 people - most Catholic, many angry, all looking for answers - Cincinnati Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk on Wednesday reviewed the priest sexual abuse scandal from a bishop's viewpoint and answered questions from the faithful.

Again and again, he said he was sorry. He listened to victims of sexual abuse berate him and the church for not doing enough to stop abusive priests. He listened as some Catholics said they were embarrassed about their church. He nodded as others said they steadfastly supported the Catholic church and its shepherds.

And he answered their questions succinctly - with general expressions of contrition about the entire scandal, but without addressing any specific cases.

In the opening lecture for a three-semester-long series at the University of Dayton addressing the abuse scandal, Pilarczyk, the archbishop of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati since 1982, first reviewed the history of the scandal from a bishop's perspective.

He divided the scandal into three parts: pre-1985, when bishops didn't know how to deal with pedophile priests and society as a whole didn't know how to deal with sexual abuse; 1985-2002, when reports of abuse were brought to the church, the church faced its first litigation and society became more knowledgeable about sexual abuse; and post-2002, when the scandal came into public view and the church began to face the sins of its past. "I know I am sorry about what happened in this archdiocese, and I will carry that sorrow to my grave," Pilarczyk said in his speech, titled "What Were Bishops Thinking?"

Pilarczyk pleaded no contest in November on behalf of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati to failure to report a crime in connection with abuse more than 20 years ago.

According to the archdiocese, 49 of the 833 priests who served in the archdiocese during the past 53 years have been accused of abuse.

During a half-hour question-and-answer session, Pilarczyk responded to often-angry questions with few words, avoiding specific cases of sexual abuse but offering general contrition and sorrow for the sexual abuse of minors.

At the end of his speech, Pilarczyk compared himself to a ship's captain carrying passengers during a storm in uncharted oceans.

"We're not passengers in your ship," said Mary Fitzpatrick, a member of Holy Family Church in Price Hill. "We're crew members, too, and we could be of great help."

Bill Stueve of Dayton asked about the $3 million compensation fund for clergy abuse victims who agree not to sue the church. He questioned the morality of asking victims to give up their rights.

"I believe it is moral because we're giving them a choice and no one has to do that," Pilarczyk responded.

One leader of a group of sexual abuse victims said she wasn't satisfied with what the archbishop said Wednesday.

"He basically read off a piece of paper that sounded like it was written by his attorney," said Christy Miller of West Chester, leader of the Cincinnati chapter of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests.


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