Stafford Parish Examines Church Scandals

STAFFORD — "I should not have had to do this," Father Michael Duesterhaus (pictured at left), pastor of St. William of York Parish in Stafford, said about the panel discussion, "Facing the Catholic Church Scandals," he hosted in the parish center Sunday night. "Because no one was saying anything, I felt compelled," Father Duesterhaus told the approximately 120 people who came to hear a discussion on the issue of sexual misconduct by U.S. Catholic priests. The panel included Dr. Ed Sheridan, clinical psychiatrist and former Georgetown University professor; Father Joseph Howard, executive director of the American Bioethics Advisory Commission; Father Paul Scalia, parochial vicar at St. Patrick Parish in Fredericksburg; and Father Duesterhaus. Linda Shovlain, communications director for the Diocese of Arlington, was on hand to explain the diocesan position and policy on sexual misconduct allegations. Father Scalia opened with an overview of the issues. "This is not a moral problem, but a doctrinal problem," Father Scalia said. "Truth has been neglected or denied … now we are seeing the rotten fruits of that ... Our morality comes from doctrine." Father Scalia praised Philadelphia Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua’s recent statement that homosexuals should not be ordained priests. According to Father Scalia, many of the sexual misconduct cases "involved adolescents and so these were not cases of pedophilia, but homosexuality … with older minor children." Pastors need to clearly promote the truth and "publicly reprimand individuals who go against Church doctrine," Father Scalia said. Dr. Sheridan discussed Gender Identity Disorder (a strong, persistent cross-gender identification), the difference between pedophilia and homosexuality, and whether homosexuality is "predetermined" or "curable." "All pedophiles are homosexual, but not all homosexuals are pedophiles," Dr. Sheridan said. Father Howard also made a distinction between pedophilia and homosexuality. He addressed whether allowing priests to marry would be a solution to the current problems by saying, "It is not the tradition of the Church." Noting that Protestant ministers can be married, he said, "It is not immoral or evil, but it is not the answer to the crisis we have now." A break prior to a question and answer session allowed the audience to comment on the panel discussion. Bob Ghormley, of St. William Parish, said the discussion was "positive" and he was happy Father Duesterhaus had been "pro-active" in arranging the panel. Ghormley said, "It reminds us we should show priests support and pray for priests." Another parishioner, who wished to remain anonymous, said he was upset that the Church seemed to "pass the problem around." He was skeptical about the discussion on whether homosexuality was "curable" and was more interested in finding out "what’s causing this problem" of sexual misconduct by priests. The audience wrote questions, which were fielded to the appropriate panelist to answer. The question and answer session seemed to get to the heart of what people wanted to know — why the crisis happened, what the diocesan policy on sexual misconduct is and what the Church will do to prevent further cases of sexual misconduct. In response to a question on where to find information on the subject, Father Duesterhaus suggested the parish Web site (www.stwilliamofyorkparish.org) or the HERALD Web site (www.catholicherald.com). Shovlain responded specifically to diocesan policy on sexual misconduct. She explained diocesan policy, which has been in effect since 1991. If there is a "credible allegation" against a priest or employee of the diocese, that person is put on administrative leave and there is a civil investigation, followed by "our own investigation," she said. Anyone in the diocese who would be found guilty of pedophilia would be "removed from ministry permanently," Shovlain said, because "the bishop recognizes that pedophilia is not curable." Every priest and employee of the diocese must attend a seminar on sexual misconduct, Shovlain said. Seminars include discussion on how to recognize instances of sexual abuse and how to report a "reasonable suspicion" of abuse — to child protective services, the police, as required by the state of Virginia, and the diocese. When asked how many dollars the diocese has spent on settling sexual misconduct allegations, Shovlain responded, "Zero." She also noted that there are "no [sexual misconduct] allegations pending" within the diocese. In response to another inquiry, Shovlain said, "It is the policy of the diocese not to accept homosexuals into the seminary." Attorney Brett Wood, who was on hand to provide a legal viewpoint, said, "The best way for the Church not to have to spend funds to settle sexual misconduct allegations is for the Church not to be complicitous." Father Duesterhaus said many Catholics "had false expectations of the cardinals’ meeting with the pope" last week. "Come June, you will see something," he said alluding to the planned meeting of U.S. bishops in Dallas. "Pray that the bishops will break the cycle."

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© Arlington Catholic Herald 2002