Being Catholic in Philadelphia


“Catholic in Philadelphia,” by Ernest J. Harkness, Opinion for Philly.com, May 9, 2011

Excerpt: “Being a Roman Catholic in Philly means I’ve been rewarded with a lifetime of friendship, beautiful churches to provide a place to enjoy major moments in life, wonderful schools that gave my children and me a solid foundation, and – most of all – a place to live a full life.

Don’t throw the institution under the bus because of the deeds of a few men. Let the law of men deal with the deeds and let the support of our institution keep our traditions alive.”


I agree with so many of things Mr. Harkness writes. The problem is that the law of men can’t deal with the deeds that were hidden by the Church. The statute of limitations comes into effect and there is no justice for victims or protection for children. We then have to depend upon our Church leaders to do the right thing. They haven’t yet. They need to fulfill the recommendations set forth by the Grand Jury report. How can we sit in our beautiful Churches, enjoy our beautiful moments and remain silent? That is wrong.


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13 Responses to “Being Catholic in Philadelphia”

  1. Susan, you hit the nail right on the head. As I was reading Mr. Harkness’ excerpt, I was thinking exactly what you wrote. If only there WERE justice under the laws of men, all of these disgusting priest perverts would be in jail!

  2. I also share many of the same experiences that Mr Harkness writes about. Friendships that date back to Catholic elementary school and continue to this day. Wonderful memories of May Processions,First Communion.I attended Catholic schools for 16 years and my children continue that family tradition today.
    I can’t however let my experience negate that of those who suffered a terrible fate due to the actions of a few priests, but the inaction of an institution. In this case the cover up and the crime,equally horrendous.
    A few months ago I received a phone call from a woman who shared her very anguished feelings about the current crisis. Like Mr Harkness and myself,she also had wonderful memories of her childhood and growing up in the Catholic faith. But she also remembered the boys at her school,speaking about a priest and some things that were going on. Of course at the time, as a child, it went right over her head but now as an adult she realizes the ramifications of those conversations. She said something that stays with me. She said although she had a wonderful experience she now realizes that there were some of her classmates whose experience was completely different than hers.As she was blissfully going through her childhood,there were students sitting right along side of her who could have been going through a living hell.
    That is exactly how I feel. It is all different now. If trading in some of my rose colored memories for the reality of the situation is what is necessary,that is fine with me. The crisis is not about those who WEREN’T abused it is about those who WERE.
    Like Mr Harkness,I also make mistakes every day. But I don’t abuse children and I don’t cover up crime. If this current crisis occurred in biblical times it would be a Gospel message for future generations. Jesus wouldn’t care about beautiful churches ,wonderful memories or traditions.Jesus would care about those who were harmed and cast aside .

  3. Sorry to be blunt, but Harkness’s “kumbaya” article is at least naive and more likely idiotic.

    We’re talking about child rape here, and he wants everyone to just be happy. He’s lost in his classical Catholic self-loathing, and of course, ignores the victims.

    Mr Harkness, should we let all rapists and murderers out of prison to live in harmony with us? Let’s put them in your neighborhood, with your children. When they become victims, we can harken back to the Harkness doctrine, and talk about how the world contains evil, and it’s our job to protect our children from it. We can talk about how foolish you were. I’ll speed up the process and do that right now.

    Thanks for encouraging us to drop the standards of priests. If they aren’t held to higher standard, then frankly they serve no real purpose.

    This is America, so you get your opinion, but no government in history has survived on your kumbaya philosophy, so let’s get back to reality.

    We’re talking about child rape here. We’re talking about criminals. We’re talking about a church whose main function is to show us and our children how to live good lives, and they’ve been a colossal failure.

    Let’s do what God would want, like adults, and clean it up. Let’s leave Mr Harkness to live in Disneyland.

    Hark, I hear the voice of reason.

  4. “We then have to depend upon our Church leaders to do the right thing.”

    At one time I firmly believed in and depend upon Church leaders to do the right thing, no longer. That ended with my seminary experience. I lost my trust in the 90’s. These so called leaders have lied to the people and to the courts, and continue to do so. They have engaged in some of the most despicable behavior that human beings can, and continue to cover-up for it. Many of our Church leaders (all the way to the top) are nothing more than thugs and criminals, some of whom are yet to be uncovered and prosecuted.

    They promised change, and change never came. This is evident when one goes to BishopAccountability.org Day after day, we read of new cases of Church sexual abuse worldwide. Then theses despots (Church leaders) continue to tell us to trust them. They are out of touch. First, they MUST EARN OUR TRUST, no signs of that happening!

    This behavior has been going on for centuries. Thank God for the internet, and other forms of instant communications. Technology is rocking the status quo of many corrupt world leaders (Holy See included.)

    They will go kicking and screaming, but they will go. When it comes to Church leaders, I’m in favor of using the biggest hammers we have. Their CRIMINAL activities has been going on for too long, no more mercy, or giving them the benefit of the doubt. They will not change on their own; we must make them change (SEE YOU IN COURT.) We must force them out by disrespecting them, not accepting them as leaders, and relentlessly filing criminal and civil suits against them. Finally, please STOP GIVING THEM MONEY!

  5. If nothing else wakes up the people who cannot face the truth about the criminal activity from the top down in our church, how about this:

    It is my understanding that even when the hierarchy is faced with a situation that results in the “firing” of a priest for abusing children, that “defrocked” priest is free to enter society with a clean slate. They are protected from Megan’s Law. They can apply for positions that put children in harm’s way. They are never prosecuted, thus have no criminal record. The church simply releases these sick individuals into an unknowing world and never looks back. They have no conscience. This is far worse than indifference on the part of the church, it is evil.

    I hope that the fear of bankruptcy results in change. However, as the richest private institution in the world with property and investments worth more than anyone would ever believe, I doubt that the church cares at this point about my missing contributions. I guess time will tell.

  6. Remember my buddies talking about problem priests in the 60’s, had to deal with a friend’s rape before I was 12 years old – not a priest. Stopped a priest not long after my first communion for not saying Body of Christ. Always thought of priests being weak. Biggest mistake I made – thinking I could rectify the situation by becoming a religious – like St Francis holding up the walls of the Church. Instead, I found that those 14 year olds knew more of the problems than their parents. Most of the priests named by them were abusers and the one got off on a technicality – kid looked under 18 but was 18. My Catholic friends have left the Church and happy I left religious life.Glad more parents are listening to their kids now.

    Never had that glowing effect just looked at Jesus crucified and the suffering His mother had at that cross.

  7. The shame and embarassment of being a Catholic now has taken over the wonderful memories of my early life. Didn’t those offending priests and covering up bishops know that we, the Faithful would have forgiven their most dastardly acts–but clearly there was more to it. The culture of the priestly caste was/is such that they cannot admit to their humanity. The Faithful must now deal with the mess they have created and that they now try to sustain.

    The Faithful must STOP giving them money. The Faithful must demand that the SOL be lifted. We, the Faithful, must take civic action where passivity has held us in the pews and where our fond memories have made us insensitive to the rape of our peers. Our spiritual life and the spritual life of our parishes demand a clean slate.

    We, the Faithful, must open our hearts, minds, and the books of our parishes to the cold light of civil authorities and let the chips fall where they may. Then the true healing can begin. We must remember that WE, the FAITHFUL are the CHURCH.

  8. I went thru catholic school from 1st thru college (16yrs) and was never abuse by a priest, nun or teacher and overall it was a great experience and is part of the reason I am who I am today……..but recently I have been thinking maybe I am just lucky ……two priests while I was in grade school are on the archdioses list and two priests are on the list that were at my high school when I was there………it’s scary……you wonder about the kids you went to school with.

    • Beth,

      If you talk to child sex abuse therapists, they say that only one in three children that was abused by a Catholic priest will actually come forward. The problem is much, much worse than people think.

      Think about those kids. They were raped at 12 years old, by a priest, who was Jesus Christ on earth as far as they were concerned, and they grow up in a completely different world than you.

      They are always anxious, confused, can’t concentrate, and they ALWAYS think about it. Most are suicidal, because they just want his life to go away.

      As they grow up, they realize that if they tell anyone, there will be no sympathy and no acceptance from the Catholic church or its congregation. There are no “Christians” in either.

      The first reaction will be “you’re lying to get money, and we will fight to keep our money”. They’ve watched the others come forward, and they’ve heard about how they were humiliated in court, forced to tell the story of the most horrible day(s) of their life, and accused of lying by everyone in the room.

      If they are lucky, they get a settlement between $80,000 and $300,000. That’s what the Catholic church pays you after they’ve ruined your life. Use that to pay for your therapy at $150 an hour.

      They live in a horrible, solitary world, and view the Catholic church and its congregation as an evil, heartless place. That’s because the Catholic church and its congregation ARE an evil, heartless place.

      Don’t tell me about the nice things the church does. God will evaluate the church and congregation on the way it treated the children they raped and scorned.

      You wonder who was raped from your childhood? Start with this – what kids just never turned out right? Which normal 10 year olds became withdrawn, became alcoholics, drug addicts, committed suicide, never dated, et cetera? Now you can start to put the pieces together.

      Don’t plan to tell God you had no idea. He is making it so clear to everyone, and the church leaders and congregation don’t care.

      There’s your hard truth.

      • Patrick,

        You stated, “God will evaluate the church and congregation on the way it treated the children they raped and scorned.” Yes He will, and in eternity they will receive perfect justice. “The floor of hell is paved with the skulls of bishops,” St. Athanasius.

        Until then I see my job as makeing life as uncomfortable for those involved as possible. I believe that this is best carried out by working to extend the statute of limitations, and by doing what I can to keep the scandal in the public eye. The Church wants nothing more than to make it appear to be a thing of the past.

        No, this problem will not be a thing of the past until Regali and bishops like him are gone. We have a lot of work to do.

      • Yes that is exactly right and anyone that showed an inkling of caring was probably fired or silenced. My brother and I have been talking about “the kids that did not turn out right” or got in trouble all the time. A few have started to come forward. The problem is that many do not come forward til they are 40, 50 or 60 years old when their life in completely destroyed and they finally figure out why. Most think it happened in the past and has no affect on my life now. They think they are “ok” like my husband til it’s too late. That pretty much happened to us and I would like to save people from the hell we went thru. Yes I know for a fact counseling is very expensive. Ironically his offender is upset he has to pay for our couseling…..how sorry can he really be…..and he knows how bad things were for us…….I will never be the same part of me died too……all I can say is thank God I believe in Jesus……..and I know change is possible………it will come

  9. I do think that there are many people who see things the way Mr. Harkness does. Sometimes, I wish I could have remained in that uninformed state of bliss thinking that things are not that bad. However, knowing what I now know about the heartbreaking crimes against children and the ongoing criminal cover-ups as well as the continued lack of care from the Archdiocese for the overall safety of children, I am unable to remain in that blissful state. The reality has struck me and, though I feel extremely close to Jesus during this sad time in our Church history, I do not feel the warm and fuzzies anymore that Mr. Harkness feels about the Catholic Church in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. I think, for my children’s sake, I need to face reality.

  10. Jackie there was a time when I had very warm feelings about the Church, my time in seminary, and religious life. After I learned about the underbelly of the RCC my heart became cold, and 15 years later nothing has changed. I was in love with a Church that existed only in my mind. As Patrick noted, the “…the Catholic church and its congregation ARE an evil, heartless place.”

    My focus has shifted to Christ. I must admit the warm feelings were nice, but I now realize they are not essential. The the essence of my faith is following Christ. I know the different between right and wrong, and I don’t need to run that by any bishop or priest to confirm that knowledge.

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