As allegations of sexual abuse spread through the Catholic Church in the United States, the pastor of St. Mary’s Student Parish said yesterday that while no allegations have been made in Ann Arbor parishes, churches still have a difficult task in repairing damage from others’ misconduct.
“Some (parishioners) have expressed out and out anger, concern, disappointment, lack of trust,” Rev. Thomas Firestone said.
“It’s like there is a thousand pound elephant that just walked into my office. I can’t ignore it, I have got to deal with it,” he said.
The most recent string of national accusations began when Boston Cardinal Bernard Law admitted in January the Church had knowledge that former priest and convicted sex abuser John Geoghan had molested children for many years, but was never penalized. Since January, dozens of priests have been suspended or forced to resign. Four have resigned so far in Michigan.
“I think the thing that is hurting some of our parishioners is the cover-ups,” Firestone said. As a former church attorney, Firestone said he was not surprised the allegations surfaced and said it has been a “festering sore for some time.”
Firestone also made clear this problem was not only problem for the Catholic Church but one that everyone must face.
“It is a problem with our society. My hope is that in the long term the Church can get its act together and can become a force to help our society begin to deal with this problem.”
LSA sophomore Moira Birss said she does not feel the allegations have affected her, citing a good relationship with her priest. She also hoped that the issue could be resolved quickly.
“Not all priests and not every Catholic is an awful person because of this. The people who are responsible should be prosecuted and the Church should address the issue openly to try to figure how to resolve this issue,” she said.
The Diocese of Lansing has “an extensive sexual misconduct policy and procedures to deal with these criminal and immoral acts,” according to a letter by Lansing Bishop Carl Mengeling.
“I assure you that no one who has had a substantiated claim of sexual abuse of a minor brought against him/her is actively working in the Diocese of Lansing,” he said.
Churches in the Ann Arbor area will also be working to address these problems. Firestone said he held a meeting with parents last Sunday to help them understand the issues. They are also currently looking for a nationally recognized speaker to help the community to work through the issues.
The St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church will be holding an open forum April 21.
“We are trying to make some of the distinctions between what a true pedophile is and abuse of a minor, and how these things have to be considered within our society and not just in our church,” Firestone said.
He also said Bishops will be meeting in June, and sexual misconduct in the Church will be the primary issue of discussion. He hopes they are able to develop a national policy and said “they have got to come clean on it all.”
“I think it is going to stay in our consciousness for a while and we are going to continue to have these things popping up. This stuff is going to continue.”