Readers respond to report, tell concerns
Task Force findings and recommendations draw mixed reaction from readers
By Jeff Kurowski
Compass Assistant Editor
The remarks by Bp. Robert Banks and the findings and recommendations of the Record Review Task Force concerning sexual abuse, released at a May 31 press conference, have drawn mixed reactions from Compass readers.
Among the comments by Bp. Banks of interest to those readers asked to respond was his comparison of the church reacting as a family would in handling abuse.
"His analogy of a family in denial appears to answer part of the question as to why priests were moved from parish to parish without concern for future behavior," said Kathy Kraus of Appleton, a child therapist for sexually abused children.
"Those of us who are familiar with family systems realize the difference between opened and closed families," Kraus said. "In an open family, information from the outside is allowed in and is considered, and problems are faced and discussed, whereas in a closed family system, the information from the outside is not considered, and the decisions are usually made by the person at the top. In order for a family to get healthy, there has to be an acknowledgement of the problem and an openness to change--this appears to be happening and only time will tell."
A lot to be desired
"The analogy of the church and family left a lot to be desired from my point of view," said Jim Pizzala of Lakewood. "I expect the church hierarchy, with all the financial and educational resources available to it, should provide the example to ordinary families as to how to conduct themselves. After all, the bishops and cardinals are supposed to be the pillars of the faith. Bp. Banks has apparently had a change of heart regarding secrecy within the church. He says he now believes that secrecy isn't good. It will be interesting to observe how open the bishop will be in future church dealings."
Nancy Bissa of Kiel commended the bishop's candor.
"Bp. Banks' humility in acknowledging that mistakes were made in the past by church leaders, bishops and himself in handling abusive priests and his obvious desire to do better is to be admired," she said. "Victims of sexual abuse in the past were totally ignored by the church, so it is good that Bp. Banks' primary objective is to respond to their suffering. He would like the church to take immediate measures when a child/teenager has been hurt. The problem is that children do not always understand what has occurred and may suppress it until years later."
Stephen Gajdosik of Wrightstown would like to see more preventive measures.
"What really concerns me is that I did not see addressed, in the statement or report, the true cause of the problem--dissent from the church's teaching on human sexuality and homosexuality," he said. "If the issues of dissent, screening of applicants for the priesthood and seminary formation are not publicly put at the forefront and significant action taken to reform these areas, then we will simply be treating the symptoms, and the cause will be there to erupt again in the future with more children victimized on account of those who are unwilling today to speak courageously and take, perhaps in some circles, difficult corrective action."
Reader reactions vary
Reader reaction to the work of the Record Review Task Force brought varied responses.
"It is encouraging to see the Task Force recommending that anyone convicted or confirmed of a sexual offence would be restricted from priestly duties," said Jim Soletski of Green Bay. "This seems to be more in line with my thinking than the national bishops conference which appears to give priests with a single past transgression a chance to again harm a child or adolescent."
Bp. Banks accepts the Task Force report, however, he states that it will be used as a guide in revising the diocesan policies, which could allow him to pick and choose, said Pizzala.
Pizzala also wants a review of diocesan procedures by an authority not under the bishop's control.
"I believe an independent review is necessary to demonstrate that the bishop is sincere when he says he wants to attempt to regain the trust and confidence of members of his diocese," he said.
"In regard to the Task Force recommendations, many are very general and need to be specific," said Kraus. "For example, what is the clear process for conducting an internal investigation of a complaint? Anyone involved in this process should have thorough knowledge of perpetrator behavior. People are skeptical of any internal process and the confidentiality around this process. Much more openness is needed here."
Need to establish policies
In his statement, Bp. Banks refers to the bishop's meeting in Dallas, June 13-15, as a source of further direction. Policies need to be established at that meeting, said Bissa.
"I would like to see the U.S. bishops establish a national process of quickly removing/laicizing priest abusers from priestly duties and the priesthood upon conviction," she said. "I would like to see inter-diocesan policies established where one diocese must report priests with sexual abuse allegations to another diocese in the case of a possible transfer."
Pizzala has concerns about the meeting.
"The problem is the men attending the meeting," he said. "The bishops who have allowed this scandal to occur will walk away without any punishment. The priests will bear the full punishment. The bishops have clearly demonstrated that they are not competent leaders nor are they capable of policing their own operations."
"The credibility of the church, its ability to stand as a moral authority in a corrupt culture and, most importantly, its ability to call people to conversion are at grave risk if the bishop's fail to act with fortitude and self-sacrifice," said Gajdosik.
Fr. Richard Allen, pastor at St. Gabriel the Archangel Parish in Neenah, offered reflective remarks about the state of the sexual abuse scandal.
"Jesus works with people who are fully human," he said. "We make mistakes, sometimes big mistakes. Even though we do not use the sacrament of reconciliation often, deep down we know we need it. Deep down, we believe Jesus can still work with feet of clay."