St. Thomas community reacts to Catholic Church scandals

<p>Pope Benedict XVI (Sergey Gabdurakhmanov/Creative Commons)</p>
Pope Benedict XVI (Sergey Gabdurakhmanov/Creative Commons)

St. Thomas students, faculty and staff have wide-ranging reactions to the sex-abuse scandal that has put the Catholic Church at the center of news headlines for the past few weeks.

Freshmen Nina Ricceri and Brianne Reeves would like to see the Catholic Church apologize for alleged incidents of child molestation and sex abuse by priests around the world.

Ricceri suggested the Church should eject priests involved in sex abuse.

“Shouldn’t they be excommunicated?” Ricceri said. “I think it’s ironic that sex offender priests are allowed, but they won’t let women be priests.”

Reeves says the bigger issue is child sex abuse in general, whether it is in the Catholic Church or elsewhere.

“We’re treating single instances without treating the causes of them,” she said.

Students talk about the abuse scandals

Freshman John Hirsch finds the whole scandal confusing.

“When I hear about this, I think people have to realize that sex offenders are everywhere,” he said.

Hirsh said few Catholic clergy are sex offenders.

“It makes me feel bad so much negative attention is brought to it,” he said. “It helps [people] think that all clergy are bad when they’re not.”

Freshman Kathleen Guinn said the scandal doesn’t affect her Catholic faith at all.

“I think if you believe in the religious aspects of it, then the faith transcends the institution,” she said.

Guinn’s biggest concern is how negative attention to the scandal will affect the Church’s role in diplomacy and human rights issues.

“If the pope has condoned or swept under the rug child sex abuse, he’s not the authority you want to look to for moral guidance,” she said.

But Guinn said she is not going to regard all priests as people who abuse children.

“They’re an individual who made a mistake, although it was reprehensible, and I don’t think that they should have their position anymore,” she said. “I don’t necessarily think that it’s the Church’s fault.”

Campus religious leaders provide insight

Campus ministry assistant director Don Beyers called the sex abuse “hideous.” He acknowledged the lifetime of suffering that child abuse causes for victims and families.

“Despite that the clergy sometime fails, the Church is much larger than the clergy,” Beyers said. “There is some wrong on certain Church officials’ part.”

Beyers said a lot of the cases coming to light are old, and mass attendance has increased over past years.

“The Church is wonderful, one of the greatest advocates of social justice,” he said.”The beauty of the Church is that it’s not coming down.”

The Rev. Juan Miguel Bentacourt, an assistant professor of sacred scripture at the St. Paul Seminary, said the way the media are reporting the scandal is unbalanced.

“These cases are from a long time ago,” he said. “Let’s present them in a fair way with all the information on the table and have the people see for themselves … Where there’s an agenda, there’s no way for fair conversation to take place.”

Bentacourt said the Church will not make an untrue statement, and the Vatican has continued to apologize. He said Church officials struggle to make decisions when allegations surface without hard evidence.

“If someone makes allegations about a priest, his fame is damaged, whether it’s true or false,” Bentacourt said.

What the Church is doing about sex abuse

Bentacourt says the conversation should focus on how the Church is working to resolve the problem.

“The question we need to think about is what the Church is doing. [Let’s] focus on our own position on society,” he said. “We need to move on.”

Archbishop John Nienstedt declined to speak to TommieMedia. He published a statement in the Catholic Spirit newspaper Thursday, April 8. In that statement, Nienstedt acknowledged the grief families and victims are suffering.

“Sexual molestation of any kind is indefensible,” Nienstedt wrote. “It is a sin that cries out for forgiveness. We can perhaps never apologize enough for what has taken place. We must direct ourselves to the healing of the victims.”

He pointed out that since 2002, the American Catholic Church has been working to eliminate sex abuse in the church. The American Catholic Church has invested $21 million in child protection acts.

Theresa Malloy can be reached at