Views & Perspectives | Catholic Church pastors must speak directly and frankly to their congregations



The sexual abuse scandal that now grips the Catholic Church needs much more clarification by local pastors for local parishioners.

I was very pleased with the Aug. 21 statement from Bishop Daniel Jenky that states, in part, ”I was truly saddened and deeply disturbed by the recent report from Pennsylvania of the sexual abuse of minors and failures of some bishops to address this crisis. I know that many of you share my sorrow. I stand with you. Since 2002 and certainly today, the Church addresses these matters in a much better way. Here in the Diocese of Peoria, priests, employees, and volunteers undergo extensive background checks and child safety education. We are doing all we can to provide a safe environment for our children to grow in every way and in their faith.”

Pope Francis also spoke in a beautiful letter “To The People of God.“ In part he said, ”If one member suffers, all suffer together. These words of St. Paul forcefully echo in my heart as I acknowledge once more the suffering endured by many minors due to sexual abuse, the abuse of power and the abuse of conscience perpetrated by a significant number of clerics and consecrated persons.”

The pain of the victims and their families is also our pain, and so it is urgent that we once more reaffirm our commitment to ensure the protection of minors and of vulnerable adults. Like hundreds of central Illinois faithful Catholics, I was baptized a Catholic as a very young child. I grew up attending St. Bernard Church and St. Bernard School. I served as an altar boy throughout my grade school years. I am so pleased we had wonderful pastors and priests as well as religious women throughout my years at St. Bernard Church and School. They were dedicated to the Church and the people they served. We were enriched by their examples of faith and ability to preach and teach the important beliefs of the Catholic Church.

I must add that the priests and religious women who taught us at Spalding during my high school years were equally as faithful and dedicated as our parish priests and religious women at St. Bernard parish. When I started my junior high teaching career in the late ‘60s, I taught at two Catholic grade schools, St. Joseph School in Pekin and Holy Family School in Peoria. We had wonderful pastors, priests and religious women all dedicated to serving the people of God and their families.

Millions of Catholics believe that Pope Francis had set a new tone of tolerance and love for all Catholics including many who have been ostracized in the past from the Catholic Church for too long. His voice and opinions on abuse have been strong and caring. Many in the Peoria Diocese have appreciated Bishop Jenky’s leadership in promoting Catholic schools and the importance of Catholic education. We also appreciate his strong voice and opinions on Church abuse. I strongly believe that most Catholics have a personal relationship with their pastors. They listen to their pastors preach on a weekly basis. They work with their pastors on a regular basis. Pastors and their parishioners have a religious bond as well as a bond of friendship and respect.

We need every pastor to speak out very soon at every mass in the strongest terms possible decrying the abuse. We need our pastors to commit to their parishioners that they will do all they can to make certain abuses against God’s children will not be tolerated and will not happen in our parishes. In the absence of this kind of statement and discussion, I fear many Catholics will lose faith in their church’s leadership and ultimately consider other faith and religious options. Pope Francis should issue a directive to pastors around the world to engage in this ongoing, frank discussion with their parishioners.

Ray LaHood

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