It isn’t easy for men to get in touch with and identify their emotional responses to events. However, upon reflection, I believe that my emotional responses to the priest pedophile scandal parallel somewhat the stages of grief that people go through with the loss of a loved one.
I come from a family of very devout Catholics. I had an uncle who was a priest and an aunt who was a nun. Two of my sisters entered religious orders, and I studied for the priesthood for many years myself.
When the details of the priest pedophile scandal broke, my initial reaction was one of denial. This couldn’t be happening in the church that I knew, since most of my experiences with priests and nuns were wholesome and positive. However, experiencing priests and nuns, in both the seminary and as a religion teacher in a private Catholic high school, I realized that the clergy and religious are only human like the rest of us, and share all of the faults and moral failings that any of us might have.
My second emotional reaction was one of great anger at those individuals who perpetrated child molestation and, almost more so, with those church leaders who covered up the scandal to try to save face for the Catholic Church’s public image. Along with the anger, there was a tremendous feeling of betrayal on the part of those who were seen as leaders and role models of Christian life. Bishops and priests who claimed to stand and act “in persona Christi,” in the person of Christ, not only covered up and denied the reports of victims of abuse, but even went so far as to treat them as the enemy for daring to accuse clergymen of any wrongdoing. The lack of empathy, on the part of the clergy, for the victims and their families completely amazed me.
It goes without saying that I was sickened and saddened by the reports of what had transpired, especially the shocking accounts of how, when and where the molesting took place. I have had bouts of depression in my life, and I can tell you that my feelings of depression were enhanced as each new aspect of the cover-up was revealed.
The findings of the Pennsylvania grand jury report didn’t surprise me. I was pretty familiar with most of the cases that were named, at least in the Pittsburgh and Greensburg dioceses. While it is still hurtful to have the Catholic Church so publicly exposed in this scandal, I have gotten to the point where I need to put my negative feelings aside and begin to act, in the sense of doing everything I can personally to reverse the underlying causes of the pedophile scandal.
I believe that Bishop Edward Malesic is a good and holy man and that he has the best interests of the people of the Diocese of Greensburg in his heart. I trust that he will do all within his power to lead the church of Greensburg through these difficult times. I only hope that he will call upon the expertise of as many lay people as possible to assist him in the ongoing process of healing the wounds inflicted by this crisis.
Tom Severin is a parishioner of Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Connellsville.