Catholic meetings examine scandals

Sex abuse, priesthood subjects of open sessions at Baltimore churches

Taped Keeler appeal heard

April 22, 2002|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

Baltimore-area Roman Catholic church leaders held a pair of "town meetings" with parishioners yesterday to discuss the crisis surrounding the national scandal of pedophilia in the priesthood, while Cardinal William H. Keeler flew to Rome for an emergency summit at the Vatican.

The local sessions began at 11:30 a.m. in the basement of the downtown St. Ignatius Roman Catholic Church, where the Rev. William J. Watters assembled a panel of experts to speak about what he called "shameful incidents" that have caused a "loss of authority and credibility" for the church across the United States.

"It was clear to me that we should hear from people who can tell us why it was happening," said Watters, pastor of St. Ignatius.

Leading the discussion was the Rev. Gerard McGlone, a clinical psychologist at Johns Hopkins Hospital who has studied the relationship between priestly celibacy and pedophilia. McGlone said so little data are available on the issue that no conclusion can be reached.

McGlone stated, however, that during his 10 years of research, one fact emerged: A large majority of priests are not pedophiles. McGlone said his research showed that less than 1 percent of priests are pedophiles.

"The priests I interviewed are living wonderful, celibate lives," McGlone said.

A second panelist, Sister Mary Aquin O'Neill, director of the Mount St. Agnes Theological Center for Women, said the issue of celibacy is secondary to the problems facing the Roman Catholic Church.

O'Neill stressed that many problems could be solved by allowing women and laymen to play a larger role in the church.

"This crisis offers the Catholic community an opportunity to deepen our understanding of priesthood," O'Neill said, and "to purge our church of a clerical culture that has become dysfunctional at best and scandalous at worst."

O'Neill received a thunderous round of applause from about 175 people who attended the one-hour meeting.

Yesterday, many churches in the Baltimore Archdiocese played a five-minute audiotape from Keeler in which he addressed a shortage of priests and asked parishioners to help make church officials aware of allegations of wrongdoing by priests.

"We are committed to vigilance with your assistance," said Keeler, who is to meet at the Vatican with the other American cardinals at the summons of Pope John Paul II. "If you are aware of instances of wrongdoing, please let us know."

He also said the archdiocese had developed a 15-year strategy to confront the challenges of the declining number and aging of priests.

Discussion of the pedophilia issue continued at 2:30 p.m. at Nativity of Our Lord parish in Timonium, where about 225 people packed the church for the presentation called "An Honest Discussion on the Crisis in the Church."

Among the panelists was the Rev. J. Bruce Jarboe, director of the Division of Personnel for the archdiocese. Jarboe told the audience that any credible report of abuse given to the church is presented to civil authorities, as has been the policy here since the mid-1980s.

"Our first responsibility is to protect those who are vulnerable," Jarboe said.

Yet parishioners, including some from Towson's Church of the Immaculate Conception parish, expressed anger over the national scandal.

"This is not an intellectual problem, this is a moral problem," said Dr. James Ricely, 56, a cardiologist. "Those people who have looked the other way, who have moved [pedophile priests] away, they have to be held accountable."

Panel moderators noted that the issue has anguished many U.S. Catholics.

"This is a terribly difficult time for Catholics," said Monsignor F. Dennis Tinder, pastor of the Towson church. "All of us."

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