Catholic sex abuse cases raise questions at DePaul

The respectability of Catholicism, "has certainly taken a blow," said recent graduate, David Ritter. Media Credit: Mark Bychowski

Holly Urban said her opinion of the Catholic Church has completely changed since the sex abuse cases emerged in recent years involving the clergy.

“I have lost a lot of respect for not only the Pope, but the Catholic Church entirely,” said Urban, a junior at DePaul who is not Catholic.

Some students questioned the Church’s leadership abilities and some are even questioning the Catholic Church as a whole.

The scandal has tarnished the reputation of the Church, said David Ritter, a recent anthropology graduate.

“I don’t think anyone thinks ordinary Catholics are molesting kids, but the respectability of the religion at large has certainly taken a blow,” Ritter said.

One of the latest allegations occurred when it was revealed up to 200 hearing impaired boys at St John’s School for the Deaf in St Francis, Wis., were allegedly raped by a priest between 1950 and 1974. According to church documents, an archbishop wrote in 1996 to the Vatican office in charge of abuse cases, at the time led by Joseph Alois Ratzinger, who is now known as Pope Benedict XVI. Rather than dealing with the case, the Church hid it from the public.

In many of the sex abuse cases, the Catholic hierarchy reassigned the offenders to other locations where they continued to have contact with minors according to reports. This method of action has caused many people to question the Church’s authority.

“The heart of the first scandal wasn’t just that there were pedophiles among the clergy, but that church leaders ignored or covered up complaints, and reassigned priests multiple times to new parishes,” said DePaul president Rev. Dennis Holtschneider, C.M. “In short, bishops cared more about the Church’s reputation than children’s safety.”

Junior Jenny Abercrombie said the Church probably tried to cover up the sex allegations to protect its reputation.

“I don’t think that people are going to question what it means to be Catholic, but they will question how the church is run, and who mandates them,” Abercrombie said.

While students have all said that the molestation is a separate issue, all of those questioned said that they no longer are able to view the Catholic Church as they did before the scandal.

“What kind of people follow a church that harbors pedophiles, of all things? It’s enough to make you go Lutheran,” Ritter said.

“If the Church had been more honest from the beginning then maybe their reputation would not be so much at stake,” Urban said.

The Church’s dishonesty is not the only thing members of DePaul have said to be a disappointment.

“Most sadly of all was that we as a church failed to show compassion and extend the kind of help needed to those many victims of abuse,” Fr. Patrick Harriy, C.M said.

Fr. Holtschneider recommends that background checks should be conducted on all Church employees who work with children. He also suggested that the Church leadership needs to impose the same rules to the entire worldwide Church that were adopted in the U.S. to protect children.

“Anything short of this is more than poor leadership. It’s a scandal and it’s an embarrassment to all of us who love this Church and religious tradition,” Fr. Holtschneider said.

Not all students have lost faith in the Church. Freshman Hope Cornelis said she was attracted to DePaul to continue practicing her Catholic faith.

“I knew going to a Catholic university, there might be more opportunities to do things with my faith and I didn’t want to loose my faith in college,” she said.

Graduate student Ghee Kim is a practicing Protestant but has attended Easter mass and learned about Judiasm from friends who practice those denominations.

These students who are interested in exploring faith – not just Catholicism – have the option of going to the Department of University Ministry(UMIN)for help and advice.

“The purpose of UMIN is to help students, primarily, develop their spirituality and ask and explore the meaningful questions of life through faith or spirituality,” said Tom Judge, Department of University Ministry Chaplain. “We also try to invite in and encourage those who do not have a particular faith identity or community to find something of value and benefit in University Ministry so that they feel they are always welcome too.”

Cornelis became involved in UMIN Retreats and the Church Choir to be a good way of staying strong in her Catholic identity.

Despite a stigma to the Catholic faith following the sex abuse scandals, Cornelis said she doesn’t let the negativity get to her.

“I feel like if someone really knows me, they would know that I don’t think of myself as higher or better than them because I’m Catholic,” Cornelis said. “If it’s something that they’re going to ask me about then that just gives me a chance to help them understand so they don’t make generalizations like that.”

While the scandals involving the Church are discouraging to some, other students said they did not fully define the Catholic Church.

“It’s sad. Disheartening,” Kim said. “But at the same time I feel like Catholicism gets a bad rap for it because it is in the spotlight more.”

Urban said while it is natural to question one’s faith in the Church, people must not let this affect their view toward the underlying structure of the Catholic Church. “They are separate from one another,” she said.

This article can also be found on the DePaulia websit or in this week’s printed edition.

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