FIVE Years Later

Witness in Peoria

From John Ryan, VOTF Peoria, Illinois, national chair of the priests’ support working group.

I was with some remarkable people yesterday across the street from the Cathedral in Peoria while Bishop Jenky was inside celebrating the 10:30 am mass on the Feast of the Epiphany. I was there with some survivors and family members to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the breaking news in the Boston Globe of the sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic Church.

Arriving around 10:45 am before the others, I noted the presence of a Security person in front of the Cathedral, who occasionally strolled around the corner looking this way and that as if on the alert about something. She eventually just took up her post on the steps of the Cathedral. While waiting, I walked by her into the foyer of the Cathedral in time to hear the stirring gospel of the three Magi, followed by the opening remarks of Bishop Jenky who preached the homily. He opened with a statement about the difference between excellent and mediocre schools, and I left a couple of minutes later wondering how the bishop was going to link back in his homily (if at all) to the gospel message.

Back outside, I was joined by five others, three of whom were survivors and two spouses. We gathered together across the street on the corner, and I noted they had brought vigil candles along with some hastily prepared signage and pictures of themselves and the priest who abused them when they were around ten years old. Having heard their stories at one of the SNAP meetings in Peoria late last year, these pictures brought everything back to me in a most vivid and poignant way.

The plan was to wait until mass had ended, and while parishioners were exiting the church, we would hold up the signs and pictures, and also, recite petitions as a prayer of the faithful aloud holding the vigil candles. While waiting, one of our members had need to use a restroom, and was refused admission to the Cathedral by the security person. Before and after that, several other individuals freely entered without interference. We also noted the presence of a police car, which slowed down when passing us by as if to let us know that they were here. Because there had been no announcement of our meeting until I notified those on my VOTF distribution listing 24 hours earlier, we concluded that someone on my listing may well have been the one to notify the chancery of this event. We speculated that inside the church, an announcement would be made at the end of mass alerting the attendees that a protest group was outside and that they should avoid any contact with us. In fact, as people left the cathedral, very few looked at us much
less came within 30 feet of us. Those who looked, looked hard and long, as lookers look when taking in the scene of a horrible accident. We did audibly greet some who came within earshot, but only got the hard stern looks in response.

As a non-survivor, it gave me some inkling of the way survivors must feel when being shunned, as they have been shunned, not only by the Sacred Pastors (bishops), but also by most priests and laity. It brought home to me how successful the bishops, and in particular Bishop Jenky, have been in convincing the faithful that the survivor community is a threat to the welfare of the church and is to be shunned and avoided at all costs. It is one thing for the bishops to act from such a flawed perspective as ministers of the gospel and shepherds of the flock. It is another to see it reflected in the faces of the faithful Catholic laity, some of whom may well be friends and neighbors.

I asked the wife of one survivor in our group how she would feel if Bishop Jenky were to come across the street after mass and greet the group, stretch out his arms and embrace them, and invite them join him for coffee and donuts in the chancery. After her first surprised look upon reflecting on this unlikely prospect, she stated that it would be wonderful to be received and acknowledge in such a manner.

There was some media presence, and attempts to interview the survivors were thwarted due to the cathedral bells ringing (deafeningly loud) from the end of the mass until just a few minutes after we disbanded, a total of forty uninterrupted minutes of deafening bell ringing!!! I cannot imagine that is a standard practice and that the people living in the nearby community would tolerate such a din. Talk about noise ordinances!!!

Being with these remarkable people was a grace, and I cannot say enough about their courage and witness. Believe what you want to believe about this scandal, but please do not forget that the real ongoing scandal is the manner in which the hierarchical church, and the rest of us, have responded to the needs of those most harmed by it all.

I paste below a statement from a Denver SNAP leader Jeb Barrett that I think expresses very well just what it is that survivors want to hear from church leadership, and I would add, with the full support of the faith community:

”What we victims of sexual abuse by clergy and our families need to hear from priests, bishops, archbishops, cardinals, and the pope is something like this: ‘We were wrong in what we did, what we allowed to happen, for covering up criminal acts against children, for continuing to place protection of sexual predators above the protection of children, for not reporting crimes to civil authorities, for not reaching out to victims and their families, and for shunning those we have harmed. We have not been healers and reconcilers or protectors of children. What can we do to make it right? How can we ever compensate you, the Church and society for the harm we have done?’ We have yet to hear anyone among Catholic hierarchy take this vital step toward reconciliation, followed by proactive restitution.”

Catholics in 56 cities across the country participated in vigils to mark the 5th Anniversary of the start of the Boston Globe’s “Spotlight Series” on the clergy abuse scandal. This Pulitzer Prize winning newspaper series was the force that brought the scandal to national and international attention and marked the beginning of Voice of the Faithful. The weekend’s events were covered by hundreds of newspapers, TV and radio stations all over the US. In addition, NPR featured the scandal in a 3-part series that aired on January 11, & 12. (From VOTF Focus)

  • For more info on the NPR series click here.
  • For information on how you can participate in VOTF’s Campaign for Accountability – Protecting Our Children click here.

“ Hand of God” is a microcosm of countless working class Catholic childhoods spent in Catholic schools from elementary school through college and growing up in loving, religiously devoted, close-knit families. Up to a point, the Cultrera story crosses your own in countless ways. After that point, it casts in stunning relief what has been wrong in our Church and how, like an abuse experience, it seeps into the rest of our Church’s life. We encourage our readers to take the opportunity to view the entire film

Read VOTF Stan Doherty's Scripture Reflection

“Unanswered questions linger” by Steve Krueger. If you would like to see a pdf of the Globe page featuring these commentaries, click here.

In the Vineyard
January 25, 2007
Volume 6, Issue 2 Printer Friendly Version (PDF)

Page One

Diocese/State Watch

LETTER to the Editor

Five Years Later


Theologian’s Corner: Gaile Pohlhaus – “What’s Infallible? What’s Not?”

Asleep in 2002? “Archivist of Our Time:”

“It Has Been an Honor” – Executive Director Ray Joyce says good-bye

“Remembering Dot Winslow” – reflections from friends


Structural Change Working Group

Voice of Renewal/Lay Education

Prayerful Voice

Goal 2 - Priest Support



Contact Us 



For an overview of press coverage of VOTF, click here.

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