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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion

Zeal for justice risks creating new victims

Marie C. Whalen Special to The Spokesman-Review

I know, and have known, some victims of clergy abuse in the Catholic Church. I say have known, because I knew a man, the father of young children, who committed suicide because of the depression he suffered from this abuse. I know others who live and continue to suffer.

The sex abuse scandal is not only a major tragedy but the most poignant example of the urgent need for change in the power structure of the Catholic Church. The church must let go of policies created long ago as a means to retain its status and power.

Like many other Catholics, I have watched the sex abuse scandal unfold with a sense of anger and great dismay. Here in Spokane, I watch closely as Bishop William Skylstad, our priests, parishes and Catholic school leadership wrestle with the legal and moral dilemmas resulting from victims’ lawsuits.

There are no easy answers. Most people I know feel as I do. Our hearts break for the victims, and we share a common outrage and disgust for those who covered up for them.

At the same time, there is a strong feeling that some victims’ desire to destroy the Catholic Church is both morally wrong and futile.

I can’t speak for other Catholics, but for myself, I see such victims as caught in a moral dilemma: they want to make the church pay for what it did to them.

But who should pay, and how much is enough? The church needs to acknowledge the extent of the evil it has condoned and make a just settlement with victims.

The question is one of fairness to both sides. For victims who want assets to include the sale of parishes, offerings from the faithful and the sale of Catholic schools, I ask: Whom are you really punishing? The parishes, yes, but what about the parishioners who give money for the many good causes the church espouses?

In the case of my church, St. Ann’s, this includes money for schools in Africa, as well as funds to help the impoverished neighborhood surrounding St. Ann’s. St. Ann’s receives phone calls daily from people who need money for utilities, food and other basic living expenses and have nowhere else to turn.

When you desire to close and sell Catholic schools, will you be punishing the priests and bishops, or the lay teachers who have poured their energy and hearts into teaching our young? Are you not also punishing our children, who are happy in their schools, learning the three “Rs” along with the fundamentals of being good and moral young people?

We live in a society where people believe that, with enough money, anything can be bought or sold, created or destroyed. Ultimately, however, the desire to destroy the church by taking all of its assets will not work, because the church is not a collection of buildings. It is not just the clergy. The church is the people – the faithful. Belief cannot be bought or sold; it cannot be taken away by courts or money-hungry lawyers. The church will go on.

I know victims who are still strong in their faith, if not their faith in the Catholic hierarchy. They want justice; they want the diocese to pay for their ongoing counseling and related medical expenses. They want the church to acknowledge its guilt and to repent by putting safeguards in place so no other children will be abused by pedophile clergy. They also seek healing through forgiveness. Vengeance and destruction cannot bring this about. These will only extend the bitterness and suffering of the victims and, in the process, victimize others who are innocent and who benefit from the good works of our Catholic parishes and schools.

Let us go about the business of demanding justice and reshape the church in such a way that the pedophiles will be stopped. Catholics who are not abuse victims want this no less than those who have been abused.

As victims, your pain and courage lay the foundations to bring about accountablility in a church whose leadership has been more concerned with the preservation of power than with serving its people. We can work together to bring the power of the Catholic Church where it belongs – into the hands of its people. Let us be agents of change, not destruction.

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