FaithWorld

Guestview: “Trifecta” of bad news launched Catholics4Change blog

By Guest Contributor
April 8, 2011
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(Protesters near the courthouse before a hearing on the Archdiocese of Philadelphia sexual abuse scandal in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, March 14, 2011/Tim Shaffer)

The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the authors’ alone. Elizabeth E. Evans is a freelance writer, columnist and priest-in-charge at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Honey Brook, Pennsylvania.

By Elizabeth E. Evans

Three seemingly unrelated events – and Susan Matthews found herself at a crossroads.

Reading a letter to the editor assailing the “apathy” of local Catholics… Recollecting an essay she had written when the first grand jury report dealt her family a personal blow…  Overhearing a conversation between two older women critical of the victims of an accused priest.

It was, as Matthews wryly recalls now, this ‘trifecta” that impelled her to act. Outraged at the predator priest scandal that has overtaken the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, the Huntingdon Valley resident and mother of two started a blog, Catholics4Change.com.

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(Monsignor William Lynn leaves the courthouse after a hearing in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, March 14, 2011. Lynn was recently indicted in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia sexual abuse scandal/Tim Shaffer )

In February, a grand jury report alleged that as many as 37 local Catholic priests were left in parishes in spite of “credible” abuse allegations. Since then 26 priests have been suspended for allegations or abuse or other boundary violations, two as recently as last week.

In the little more than a month, Catholics4Change (which has close to 25,000 hits within the past two weeks) has become a rallying point for local believers. And Matthews (a former editor of the archdiocesan paper currently a freelance writer and QVC guest host) and another aspiring reformer, Kathy Kane, have become the center of a lively and impassioned debate that goes beyond protecting children but to holding church hierarchs accountable.

“Just because Jesus was the Good Shepherd, doesn’t mean that we need to behave like sheep” Matthews said.

When asked about Philadelphia Cardinal Justin Rigali, Matthews was scathing, saying that he was accountable for what occurred on his watch whether or not he knew what was going on.  “I would like the Cardinal to have the courage to meet with congregant’s face to face, and not have it so heavily managed by P.R. people,” she said. “I would like him to admit fault and seek real change.”

Thanks to a commentary in the Philadelphia Inquirer, appearances on a local television station and a radio talk show, Matthews and Kane have become, to some extent, the public face of area Catholic parents.

“We are a dime a dozen,” said Kane. “I don’t know anyone out there who doesn’t find this a painful situation.”

A former social worker, Kane was spurred by a requirement that her child attend a mandatory overnight sports camp (required to maintain full membership in the parish-sponsored sports program) to seek a change in diocesan policy. With the help of diocesan employees, she says, she was able to get the regulation changed – now no overnight is mandatory.

While the diocese has an anti-abuse program for those working with children, Safe Environment, Kane would like to see a charter that includes practical rules for parish and diocese-sponsored outings and overnights. Kane, Matthews and other local Catholics are getting behind legislationin the Pennsylvania capital Harrisburg to abolish the statute of limitations on child abuse.

In an archdiocese long known for its conservative leanings, clericalism and close ties to Rome, such calls for reform could be considered tantamount to revolution.

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(Sherry McCormack holds a photograph of herself as a child near the courthouse after a hearing on the Archdiocese of Philadelphia sexual abuse scandal in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, March 14, 2011/Tim Shaffer)

But neither Matthews nor Kane, who both have children in parochial schools and are active in their local parishes, view themselves as zealots. Instead, said Matthews, she believes that it’s time for laypeople to have more of a voice in the way the church is run.

“They have written off a lot of people as leftist radicals,” said Matthews. “I’m going to work very hard not to be categorized that way.” Sympathetic to local clergy who find themselves under suspicion, Matthews holds the diocese responsible for a situation in which parents are “sitting in the congregation wondering if their priest is a pedophile.”

In the wake of the first wave of dismissals occasioned by the release of the first grand jury report in 2005, Matthew’s husband, Damian Dachowski, learned that Peter Dunne, a family friend and priest who had taken him and his brothers on camping trips, was an accused pedophile.

Last week, she found out that an old friend and former editor at her old workplace, the Catholic Standard & Times, David Givey, had been placed on administrative leave by Rigali for unspecified reasons. “As for Fr. Dave, I have no idea what the allegations are,” said Matthews.  “I don’t want to speculate. But that’s what the archdiocese has caused so many to do in regard to the priests in our lives.”

Matthews is preparing a packet of questions for Rigali, collected from her readers,  to be delivered this week by certified mail. But real change has to start at the top, she added. “Our leadership in Rome has to decide to allow a bigger, more important role for lay people in leadership, within the context of our doctrine…not a pretend one with empty titles.”

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Philadelphia Inquirer
February 17, 2011

A CHURCH’S CHANCE FOR REDEMPTION
By Maureen Paul Turlish

Why isn’t the Catholic hierarchy actively supporting legislation to protect Pennsylvania children?

Avoiding liability for sexual abuse on the grounds that the statute of limitations has expired is hardly a moral victory, but it’s exactly what the church has done in Philadelphia and throughout Pennsylvania in recent years. Legislation to lift civil and criminal statutes of limitations would give victims of childhood sexual abuse the opportunity at long last to have their cases heard in court.

Most of the individuals mentioned in a 2005 grand-jury report on sexual abuse in the church, released under former District Attorney Lynne Abraham, could not be criminally or civilly prosecuted for their alleged crimes.

Why?

Because their enablers did not have the integrity to call the police, and the statute of limitations covering their alleged crimes ran out. In fact, the archdiocese issued a lengthy response to the report that was geared toward damage control and protecting the church at the expense of children.

This does not appear to be the case with the latest grand-jury report. So far, the church has made no orchestrated public attempt to discredit this investigation or the current district attorney, Seth Williams.

This grand jury indicted three priests and a lay teacher on charges of sexual abuse of boys, and one church official – Msgr. William Lynn, who was formerly responsible for priest assignments – was charged with reckless endangerment of those youngsters. Not only has this never happened in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia; it appears not to have happened anywhere in the United States, and it has sent shock waves through the country’s largest religious denomination.

As a community of believers, we say we are concerned about the rights of the downtrodden. But many of us have ignored the victims of child sexual abuse who are right in front of us. Instead, we talk about those who must be in it for the money and make inflammatory statements about anti-Catholic bias – none of which does much to address the problem.

Real accountability requires that all arbitrary statutes of limitations on sexual abuse of children, criminal and civil, be repealed, and that a window of at least two years be provided to allow previously barred cases to be brought forward.

Justice, like charity, should begin at home, and our church should be leading the push for legislative reforms. Jesus said, “The truth shall set you free,” but when will the truth of these allegations be known? If the leadership of the archdiocese means what it’s been saying since 2005, it will take the lead in abolishing the statute of limitations.

State Rep. Michael P. McGeehan (D., Phila.) has said he intends to introduce legislation in Harrisburg this week “that will once and for all afford all victims of childhood sexual abuse the ability to seek justice.” I encourage other legislators to join him, and I expect the archdiocese to actively support his bill. The church leadership failed its most vulnerable charges, but now it has an opportunity for redemption.
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Maureen Paul Turlish is a sister of Notre Dame de Namur and a member of the Delaware Child Victims Voice Coalition and the Greater Philadelphia Voice of the Faithful.

She can be reached at maturlishmdsnd@yahoo.com.

Posted by SMPTURLISH | Report as abusive
 

i would like to comment just briefly as there is really much too much to say about this that will eventually come out. the movement that you mention has very few followers. the number of hits is not indicative of support. myself, have looked at least 100 times to just check what people are posting-most of the time it is too specious to comment on. even if there are 25 people like me, that sure isn’t a lot of people if you compare with the number of catholics in philadelphia. there are not many who comment-and it is the same people anyway. a lot of the commenters do not make sense. people are upset, but susan mathews and company are NOT the face of philadelphia catholics. that is a fact.

Posted by doral | Report as abusive
 

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