Advent is for abuse victims, diocese says
Advent is for abuse victims, diocese says
Posted Friday, December 1, 2006
The Rev. Tom Doyle has written about the sex abuse scandals.
After decades of silence on the problem of clergy sexual abuse,Catholic Diocese of Wilmington officials on Thursday dedicated the 2006Advent season to abuse victims and their families.
The announcement came the same day a federal judge granted requestsby the diocese and Archmere Academy to dismiss a civil suit by agraduate who said a Norbertine priest there had sexually abused him.And it came two weeks after Bishop Michael A. Saltarelli released thenames of 20 priests against whom the diocese had substantiatedallegations of abuse.
Saltarelli's Advent announcement urges priests to pray for victimsand those affected by their abuse at every Sunday and weekday Massduring the season, which begins Sunday and ends Christmas day. He alsoasked each pastor to celebrate a special Advent prayer service, Mass orEucharistic Holy Hour. The Diocese of Wilmington includes 220,000Catholics, 57 parishes, 19 missions and 38 schools in Delaware and theEastern Shore of Maryland.
"This season of hope and expectation is an ideal time for us tointensify our prayers together for the healing of victims of clergysexual abuse and victims of sexual abuse in general," Saltarelli saidin Thursday's edition of The Dialog, the diocese's weekly newspaper.
Saltarelli said the church's efforts to protect children from abuse "must be complemented by these spiritual efforts."
It is the first time the Advent season -- a period of preparationfor Christmas -- has been dedicated to any segment of the Catholicpopulation here, said diocesan spokesman Robert G. Krebs.
But Navy Cmdr. Kenneth Whitwell, the 1986 Archmere graduate whofiled a sexual abuse suit last year, saw irony in the two developmentsThursday.
"Prayer is a wonderful thing and a needed thing for victims," hesaid. "But I would ask the bishop to use his efforts in justice, notjust in prayer. He has used his considerable lobbying abilities againstthat which he now asks people to pray for."
Only five or six bishops nationwide have done what Saltarelli did Nov. 16: release the names and assignments of accused priests.
Saltarelli's move was applauded by victim advocates, including theRev. Tom Doyle, a Dominican priest, author and church lawyer who hasworked on clergy sexual abuse cases since 1985. Doyle is co-author ofseveral books, including "Sex, Priests and Secret Codes," released thisyear, which traces the church's response to allegations of sexual abuseduring the past 2,000 years.
"I don't know Saltarelli, but I'm grateful," Doyle said. "I workwith victims all the time. That he took this step, which is important,moves at least the Diocese of Wilmington a little bit closer toopenness."
Shortly after Saltarelli released the 20 names, a Wisconsin familysaid it will remove him from their lawsuit against all the nation'sbishops. The lawsuit seeks no monetary damages -- only the names of allpriests with credible assault allegations against them. The O'Connellfamily's attorney, Jeff Anderson of St. Paul, Minn., who hasrepresented thousands of clergy abuse victims, said Dan O'Connell wasmurdered by a priest he believed had molested children. When questionedby police, the priest then took his own life, Anderson said, and laterinvestigations showed that church officials had ordained and trans-ferred the priest despite warnings about his behavior.
Until last month, Saltarelli steadfastly had refused to release thenames of accused priests. He changed his mind after a former Delawarepriest was arrested in October in the sexual abuse of a Syracuse, N.Y.,teenager. The Rev. Francis G. DeLuca, had been allowed to retire toSyracuse in 1993 after similar allegations arose against him here.DeLuca's history was never publicly acknowledged until his arrest.
While Saltarelli released the names of 20 diocesan priests, hewithheld the names of seven priests who were members of religiousorders. He did not release those names because the allegations againstthem were investigated by their orders rather than the diocese. ButSaltarelli did recommend that all orders release the names of anypriests with substantiated allegations against them.
One of those order priests was the Rev. Edward Smith -- theNorbertine priest named in Whitwell's suit. Although Smith's religiousorder -- the Middletown-based Norbertines -- has not returned phonecalls or released any names, the Rev. Joseph McLaughlin, Archmere'sheadmaster, said he plans to send a letter to parents of Archmerestudents next week telling them that Smith is the only faculty memberever to have such allegations against him.
McLaughlin, who was headmaster when Smith was on the Archmere staff,said the school has never tried to withhold data from parents of itsstudents. The school wrote to parents in 2002 and 2005 telling themabout Smith, who has not been at Archmere since 1984. Smith was notdismissed Thursday from the lawsuit filed by Whitwell.
Archmere originally was run by Norbertine priests, an arrangementthat ended in 2001 when an independent board took control of theprivate Catholic school in Claymont.
McLaughlin said the Delaware-based order of which Smith is a part no longer has any role in Archmere governance.
McLaughlin is a Norbertine priest, but belongs to a branch based in Paoli, Pa.
The Advent dedication is a small step forward, said Tom Ward ofNewark, who says he was abused by the Rev. Douglas Dempster -- one ofthe priests Saltarelli named last month.
Last year, two priests celebrated a healing Mass for victims.
"I think it's better than what was before -- a one-time deal," Wardsaid Thursday. "This is something that I feel will stay with people alittle bit longer to help them understand and realize that this justdoesn't go away. I don't know that this heals any of the victims.Prayers are always good, they never hurt. And I think it's more thanwhat's been done before."
Doyle thinks dedicating Advent to victims falls far short.
"The bishop may be very sincere, and this may be the best way heknows how to do it, which in itself is pathetic," he said. "TheCatholic Church is good at show, at ceremonies, at words. Differentdioceses have had healing services -- the two most recent inPhiladelphia and Boston. At the same time they're doing that, they'redoing everything they could to defeat legislation that was protectiveof victims."
Diocese officials have said they know of about 65 people whoreportedly were abused by priests here. Krebs said he does not know ofany other plans to reach out to them, but that victim assistancecontinues.
Doyle doubts many victims attend Mass anymore. Saltarelli should go to them, he said.
"These men and women could care less," Doyle said. "Most have walkedaway. What he should do is get a list of all the victims, go to theirhomes, sit with them and listen to them. You don't say, 'If you want tosee me, come to my office.' You have to go to them. Reach out, be readyto absorb the anger, be ready to have the door slammed in your face.Take off the Roman collar, the ring, the chain, get in your car and goto their homes. And tell your priests to do the same thing."
If the dedication of Advent to victims is followed up with that kindof contact and with efforts to improve laws that protect children andvictims, Doyle said, the diocese will have made more than an emptygesture. Contact Beth Miller at 324-2784 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
for a listing of alternate locations.