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  Home :: 2006 November :: Abuse scandal casts pall over Sunday Mass

Abuse scandal casts pall over Sunday Mass

'Let it not lead us to spiritual suicide'

Posted Monday, November 20, 2006
Deacon George Taylor (left) joins the Rev. JosephCocucci at the altar Sunday at the Cathedral of St. Peter. Cocuccicalled on Catholics not to let criminals commit "the spiritualequivalent of murder." (Buy photo) Special to The News Journal/DAVID W. HOWELL

One of the Sunday Bible readings in Catholic churches spoke of "stars falling from heaven."

And in the last few days in the Diocese of Wilmington, it has felt like stars were falling.

That's because of the release of the names of 20 priests withcredible sexual allegations against them, said the Rev. Joseph Cocucci.

While preaching Sunday, the rector of the Cathedral of St. Peter inWilmington called this a time of sadness and crisis in the diocese. Healso acknowledged the harm done to Catholics of good will -- priestsand parishioners alike.

"This scandal affects every single one of us, but let it not lead us to spiritual suicide," he said.

He called on parishioners to "a vocation of holiness," one that willrenew the church through faith and love -- qualities that have alwaysmoved devout people. It's these qualities that will inspire others toexperience the goodness of Jesus and make the church stronger, he said.

In speaking of the recent pain in the 57 parishes, Cocucci was doing what many of his fellow priests did in weekend services.

At Holy Angels parish near Newark, the Rev. Richard Reissmann lookedabout the congregation Sunday morning and said he was encouraged to bein the presence of so many people he considered heroes -- people whosee beyond personal needs to bring love and goodness into the lives ofothers. He said the church needs their dedication now in the wake ofdistressing news.

After the service, he talked of his surprise and hurt over the names released last week.

"I am conscious of the pain among priests, the pain among people inthe pews and pain of the victims who are trying to heal," he said.

Like others in the diocese, he praised Bishop Michael Saltarelli forreleasing the names. And he hopes the religious orders -- theNorbertines and Oblates of St. Francis de Sales -- will release namesof those in the orders credibly accused, as the bishop has urged.

John Sullivan, of Bethany Beach, praised the bishop, too.

"It takes courage to do what he did," said Sullivan, a member of thecoastal Delmarva chapter of Voice of the Faithful, a reformorganization within the church.

He added that Catholics are waiting for the release of all names andcalled on the bishop to continue to pressure the religious orders togive the full history of these allegations -- so abusers can be avoidedand people can heal.

At St. Ann's Catholic Church in Bethany Beach, the Rev. David Kelleyread a statement at services this weekend that offered help for anyonewho wanted to talk. He also encouraged victims to come forward.

Sullivan said this was important because St. Ann's parish's founder-- the late Rev. Richard F. Gardiner -- was named on the list.

"This issue has not gone away, and it will not go away for a while," Sullivan said. "There is still a crisis in the church."

In fact, said Cocucci, sadness and scandal have been with the churchfrom its beginning, when Judas betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver.But if scandal had been everything, the story of Jesus never would havespread.

What is so miraculous is that good people always come forward torenew the church, Cocucci said. This was true after the death of Jesusand it was true in darker times of corruption, such as the rule of PopeAlexander VI (1492 to 1503). Alexander, also known as Rodrigo Borgia,was the father of the notorious Lucrezia Borgia and at least eightother illegitimate children. He was responsible for several murders.

Such people commit "the spiritual equivalent of murder" by workingto destroy other people's faith, Cocucci said. And he called on modernCatholics to not allow this to happen now, because the church does notbelong to scandalous priests, it belongs to Jesus.

Even so, he said, the church needs to do more and the bishop, whohas worked diligently on the issue, has pledged to do more. That's whythe names were released, why the church encourages victims to seekhealing and why the church encourages outside audits of diocesanpolicies, he said.

It's also why the church has turned to modern psychology to screenmen interested in becoming priests, Cocucci said. Forty years ago, menwho attended Mass were often accepted if they had good grades andseemed of good character.

Clearly, such methods of screening are not enough, given theproblems many of those priests caused, said Cocucci, who is alsodirector of vocations in the diocese and well-acquainted with thescreening policies.

Today, a candidate must write a full autobiography, obtain numerousrecommendations and go through a multistep review process. Thisincludes an intense battery of psychology tests designed to weed outpeople with problems.

"When we're done, we know a candidate better than his family and friends," Cocucci said.

It's also why many more candidates for the priesthood are rejected than accepted.

"God willing, the sorts of problems we're dealing with now will not happen again," he said.

Contact Gary Soulsman at 324-2893 or 

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Pedophilia and sexual abuse of children in Australia