Their trust in individuals has been shaken, but they remain undeterred in their faith.
Edmonton-area Catholics interviewed by Grandin Media say they are shocked and horrified by the release of a Pennsylvania grand jury report that detailed decades of clerical sexual abuse and coverups in six dioceses. The report spoke of credible allegations against 301 priests in cases involving more than 1,000 children.
“It’s horrible. It’s horrible. It’s horrible,” said Marc Lambertus, who has been a member of St. Albert Parish for more than 40 years. “A lot of things that are going on are sickening and we wish that the evil would go away, and it’s not just in the Church. (But) the Church is supposed to be the leader, so when they do something wrong it looks even worse.”
Even though the incidents occurred hundreds of kilometres away in the U.S., Catholics in the Edmonton Archdiocese say they are disgusted as details emerge of the extent of the abuse.
“It’s shocking,” said Pat Doroshenko as she prepared to attend Mass in St. Albert. “The priests are the most trusted people in the world and it’s very disappointing that they did such a thing. Just shock. Utter shock.”
Pope Francis himself released a letter Aug. 20 promising to accompany victims, protect and enhance safeguards and bring the perpetrators to justice. “We showed no care for the little ones. We abandoned them,” the Holy Father wrote.
The Pope’s letter comes on the same day as a letter by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops and just days after the bishops of Alberta and the Northwest Territories.
The western bishops pledged to renew their commitment to accountability and abuse prevention in their dioceses. The letter was to be read before all Masses during the Aug. 18-19 weekend.
The Archdiocese of Edmonton has had formal abuse prevention policies and training in place since 2010. The Called to Protect for Ministries program provides training for all clergy, seminarians, employees and lay volunteers to ensure that all are suitable to be in positions of trust with children and vulnerable persons, that church-sponsored activities and programs are conducted in a safe environment, and that abuses are properly reported.
Despite their shock, Catholics interviewed by Grandin Media agree that the abuse is the fault of individuals, not the Church as a whole.
“The Church has almost always been going through tough times. This is not the first one and it won’t be the last one. What it makes me think of is Jesus and his 12 Apostles and even one of them betrayed him. Yes, just as Judas was one of the Apostles,” said Lambertus.
“I would dare say there are far, far, far more good priests than there are bad ones. I don’t think there is a comparison. When you look for the good, it’s overpowering the good that it does. It far, far surpasses the harm that it does.”
Grade 11 student Sara Senten agrees.
“It’s not about the actual Church itself. It’s about the priest and what he was doing wrong. He was misleading all those kids and misleading all those people. But the Church had good intentions,” said Senten, who attends Austin O’Brien High School in Edmonton.
Do the revelations of abuse make her question faith? “Oh no. When I hear things like that, it makes me watch out for people like that and it makes me watch for signs. It’s not about faith thing. It’s more of a distrust thing. I still have my faith in God and it has nothing to do with the priest, really.”
A lifelong Catholic, Pat Doroshenko said her faith is “something deep rooted inside of me.”
“I’ll always remain Catholic. (But) it’s going to be hard to trust a priest again. It’s the trust issue. Trust and respect. We should know who these people are. It should be out in the open and they should be disciplined somehow.”
What should happen to the perpetrators in Pennsylvania? “They need to be in jail. They need to suffer,” she said.
At the same time, Teresita Ostafijszuk is quick to add that individuals also have a responsibility to protect themselves in any situation.
“You just have to practise awareness and trustworthiness with anyone no matter who they are. You have to be alert. You have to follow your instincts,” said Ostafijszuk, a member of St. Edmund’s Parish.
Ostafijszuk said “It’s sad. I feel sorry for the children as a mom and a grandmother. I don’t wish that on anyone. But my faith is not for the priests. It’s for Jesus the Lord. That’s where my faith is. It’s not for any human being.”
-With files from Catholic News Service