|Hearings draw crowds, focus anger, suggestions on abuse
By Michelle Martin
Alberto Santos Saldivar went to the public hearing on sexual abuse by priests at Holy Name Cathedral May 21 hoping to find a priest to listen to his story.
Instead, he shared what he said happened to him as an elementary school student in Chicagos Little Italy with the more than 100 lay people who gathered to share their thoughts on the sex-abuse scandal.
Im going on 50 years old, and Ive kept this inside all these years, Saldivar said, telling how his pastor, a religious order priest, would physically punish him and other boys while touching them inappropriately, and then threatening to tell their parents how bad they were.
The hearing was one of more than 30 sessions in Cook and Lake counties organized by the Catholic Lawyers Guild of Chicago in an effort to provide lay people an opportunity to share their thoughts on the sex abuse crisis with Cardinal George before the June 13-15 bishops meeting in Dallas.
Nearly all of the 40 people who spoke wanted the bishops to understand that their priority must be to protect children, and most agreed that priests who sexually abuse minors should be turned over to civil authorities.
Several also advocated prayer: for the victims, the church and even those who abuse children.
If they spent 100 years in jail, it would be minute (compared) to a microsecond in hell, said Samuel Adedeji.
A man who identified himself as Sean and said he was abused as a 7-year-old said Cardinal George and the bishops should pray for guidance, because only Jesus can show them the way.
Should we the church advocate zero tolerance? he asked. That gives me very little comfort, because it says were not the problem, were above it and and can get rid of it.
The God that I believe in is able to forgive anything. The comfort and healing I have gotten from anger and condemnation have been nothing.
Others, speaking on behalf of groups such as Call to Action and the 8th Day Center for Peace and Justice read recommendations for everything from married priests to creating a national review board.
Starting May 22, a team of about 10 lawyers from the guild began sifting through the information gathered at the hearings to prepare a report for the cardinal.
Cardinal George said he hoped the hearings would contribute to an awareness of the sexual abuse policies that already exist in the archdiocese. As to whether he expected participants to use the hearings to try to help shape such policies or as an opportunity to vent, the cardinal said he expected both.
Theres a lot of anger out there, some of it focused correctly and some of it diffuse, he said. That is a reason why we are having a responsible discussion.
That anger went up a notch in recent weeks when a woman, who now lives out of state, accused the archdiocese May 19 of dragging its feet in investigating her allegations that a priest sexually abused her more than 30 years ago when he was assigned to St. Gertrude Parish in Franklin Park.
News reports named the priest as Father Raymond Skriba, pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Round Lake. Jim Dwyer, a spokesman for the archdiocese, told reporters that the administrator of the Professional Fitness Review Board had not yet been able to meet with the woman to launch a probe.
The same weekend, Columban Father Clarence Beckley was not at St. Philomena Church, where he serves as associate pastor, apparently because of an abuse investigation, media reported.
Some Northwest Side Catholics were shocked when news broke May 10 that Father Sleeva Raju Policetti, an extern priest from Hyderabad, India, had apparently fled the country after law enforcement officers began investigating allegations that Policetti had a sexual relationship with a teenage girl.
Father Daniel McCarthy, pastor of St. Tarcissus Parish, reported the allegations to archdiocesan officials earlier that week. The archdiocese immediately informed state authorities, who asked that Policetti not be informed of the investigation.
Policetti had served as associate pastor of St. Tarcissus since 1996.
Cardinal George wrote to the bishop in Hyderabad and asked that Policetti be sent back to Chicago if he appears there.
Later, Father Prasad Rao Policetti, Sleeva Policettis brother, who had been serving as associate pastor at St. Monica Parish on the Northwest Side, also left his post.
Representatives from the Cook County States Attorneys Office have not questioned the way the archdiocese handled the case, and a review of all other cases from the past 10 years has not turned up any problems, said Michael Howlett, counsel to the states attorney.
In the neighboring Joliet Diocese, Father John F. Barrett, who was placed on temporary leave from his post as pastor of Mary Queen of Heaven Parish in Elmhurst, continued to fight the more-than-25-year-old allegations against him.
Meanwhile, the Illinois legislature passed a law adding clergy to the states list of people mandated to report instances of child sexual abuse to authorities, with an exception for information confided during confession or spiritual counseling. The new law, which was supported by the Catholic Conference of Illinois, also extends the statute of limitations from when child victims turn 21 to when they turn 28. The governor had not signed the bill when The Catholic New World went to press.
Even so, under what circumstances allegations of sexual abuse of minors should be reported to law enforcement was among the suggested topics for the public hearings.
Many of the suggested topics were covered in a questionnaire distributed at the hearings, the same questionnaire that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops asked its members to fill out before the June meeting. The questionnaires also were available online at HYPERLINK http://www.clgc.org www.clgc.org, and could be mailed to area Catholics who called to request them.
In addition, written statements were invited, and are to be included in the final report, said David Hartigan, president of the Catholic Lawyers Guild.
We intend to go way beyond the people who actually participate in the hearings, Hartigan said.
Many bishops from across the United States are holding listening sessions of one sort or another in preparation for the Dallas meeting, and Cardinal George said the group wants to hear what the laity have to say before creating a national policy.
Such a policy would have to be approved by the Vatican before it became binding on all U.S. dioceses. Cardinal George said he does not know when that will happen, but he believes most U.S. bishops would adopt such a policy quickly.
Once something like this happens, theres tremendous moral pressure by members of the group on the individual, the cardinal said.
Clarification: Joliet Diocese Father John F. Barrett was not suspended, but placed on temporary leave as pastor of Mary Queen of Heaven Parish in Elmhurst May 5. He has vowed to fight old allegations of abuse.
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