St. Thomas Parish Meeting Leads to Determined Fight

By Kris Strid, Guest Blogger

I attended an opportunity for prayer and dialogue concerning the sexual abuse scandal at our parish St. Thomas of Villanova last week. The meeting was initiated and run by the Parish Council. The format was perfect for honest dialogue. Our Pastor and assistant sat in the back and listened.

I was touched and proud of my parish council and fellow parishioners who spoke freely and openly about their anger, dismay, betrayal and experiences. After a reading and mediation from the Bible (Lamentations) we broke into discussion groups. Then, moderated by a Villanova professor, we openly talked about what was on the minds of members in each group.

People were most angered by the cover-up, the fact that it has taken so many years with nothing done since the first grand jury report, and the abuse of power by the hierarchy.  Many of us knew people who had been abused and most all had read the grand jury reports─ A must do for any catholic who cares about children and their church. Many wanted to know where the good guys where. Why haven’t the good priests spoken out like a group in Chicago of 300 who signed a document against the abusers and cover-ups.

Most all were looking for an apology and the removal of Cardinal Rigali.  We also talked about the Statute of Limitations issue and were in agreement that it needs to be changed in PA.

One man, who had a son who was abused at a local parish was very vocal. He talked about how the victim, his son, became the victim of the archdiocese and their lawyers.  I was amazed he was still  going to church. Another women, whose family has been deeply hurt by the abuse  spoke eloquently and fairly. She was raised in a very Catholic family and she said she was ready to leave the church but then decided “I’ll be damned if I will let them drive me away ─I need to fight for what is right.” She said most victims were not looking for money but healing, reconciliation and justice. She spoke about the methods of restorative justice used in Rwanda after the genocides ─  accusations by victims and apologies by perpetrators face to face in a public forum. This united a country.

We broke again into small groups to talk about what we should do as a group to initiate change and again told them to the whole group. There were lots of ideas from drafting a letter to the Cardinal asking him to step down, and joining forces with other parishes who are forming groups. We wanted the church to publicly state that abuse victims should report to the police not the church. Maybe put of a billboard asking the church to admit guilt. Many talked about withholding their contributions to the archdiocese. ( I put my check in the collection basket with a note attached saying that none of my contribution is to go to the archdiocese.)  There are a number of people who do that and their donations are put aside for Parish use only, not included or considered with the general collection of which eight percent goes to the archdiocese.

We ended with the determination to keep up the fight and desire not to abandon our church ─ to keep the faith ─ change the church.