New sexual abuse allegations surface, Cabrini reacts

By Abigail Keefe
October 7, 2005

Jerry Zurek

As new cases of sexual abuse continue to surface following the Philadelphia grand jury report on the pattern of concealment by Catholic officials, the faith and trust of lay people and innocent priests are tested. Those watching the tragic reports unfold are divided on how to respond.

During the past week alone, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported around five to 10 sexual abuse allegations surfacing each day. Officials are still determining whether the allegations are valid or not.

To many religious, supplementary reports of sexual abuse will only cause additional pain to an injury that damaged an entire nation of Catholics. The locality of these incidents has created a huge impact on parishioners of the Philadelphia area. Being a college in the suburbs of Philadelphia, connections between members of the Cabrini community and the Archdiocese of Philadelphia run very deep.

Kevin McDevitt, a Cabrini sophomore, has been enrolled in Philadelphia Archdiocese schools since childhood. McDevitt recalls being caught off-guard by the extensive allegations provided in the jury report.

“It’s funny because I remember receiving the sacraments when I was younger and actually being excited for when Cardinal Bevilacqua would come to my school. Now, I’m not sure what to think of him,” McDevitt said.

“It’s just scary to read about all these disgusting acts,” Nicole Niedermeier, a senior education major, said. “I went to Philadelphia Catholic schools all my life, so have my parents and basically all my relatives.”

Although Niedermeier recalls having a relatively positive experience with the Catholic school system, she admits it was difficult to hear close family members speak about accused clergy members whom they were connected with in different ways.

“It was weird, at a recent family party, everyone sat around talking about which priests in the grand jury report they knew,” Niedermeier said. It is evident that discussions of the grand jury report have occurred in various forums throughout the area. Whether it was a family party, a telephone call or a discussion about it at mass, opinions and disputes have been frequent.

The abuse allegations have tested current clergy members more than ever before. Cabrini students agree that apologetic concern has been the tool many clergy members are using to handle the discussions.

“I am sure that many good faithful people are upset and saddened by the disclosure of such deeds and horrified that they were carried out by priests…they do not know how to respond to it as I do not know how to respond to such a lack of accountability,” Cabrini Chaplain Father Michael Bielecki said.

Dealing with such a substantial problem will be quite a task for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and the Roman Catholic Church as a whole. It is noted that this sexual abuse problem has not just affected the Philadelphia area.

“Such concealment not only happened in Philadelphia, of course, but has been publicly identified throughout dioceses in the United States and Canada over a period of the last 15 years,” Dr. Leonard Norman Primiano, associate professor of religious studies, said.

The Philadelphia Inquirer also reported that Charles F. Gallagher, the Philadelphia prosecutor handling the sexual abuse cases, claimed there are many more allegations to come. If such an allegation turns out to be true, the loyalty of parishioners to the Church could grow even weaker.

“Forgiveness of their immorality is needed by everyone, but that is obviously a tremendous challenge at this time in the face of such blatant hypocrisy,” Primiano said.

There is no doubt that some members of the Church will chose to take another path and leave the Roman Catholic Church behind because of the disturbing allegations.

A recurring theme, however, among many faithful believers is that the true Catholic Church is in the pews of the Church, not the altar. The initial faith is in God and not the institutional Church.

“These people realize that one case is one too many, but not all priests are predators and many priests do good work in God’s vineyard,” Bielecki said.

Posted to the web by Tim Hague

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Abigail Keefe

Abigail Keefe is a Cabrini College student studying communications, enjoying her time in Radnor, Pennsylvania. Abbie loves working for the school newspaper, the Loquitur, and is also passionate about everything that the communication field has to offer.

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