On Feb. 11, seven dedicated and well-meaning parishioners of St. Barbara Catholic Church posted an opinion piece questioning why the Riverside-Brookfield Landmark would only focus on the “sad and regrettable” events of three decades ago yet fail to mention physical and/or sexual abuse in area public schools (“Why look at just the Catholic Church,” Letters).
The tone of the letter resounded with anger for a perceived anti-Catholic slant offered by the Landmark and the media in general.
While respecting the opinions of these authors, I must vehemently disagree with their position. The Landmark’s decision to publish this information was not only appropriate, but necessary for our community.
Yes, the events described in the article occurred nearly 30 years ago. But why is this news now? Because the Archdiocese of Chicago did not disclose this information to its flock until it was ordered to do so as part of the resolution of lengthy and arduous litigation.
To answer the letter’s authors, we focus on the Catholic Church because of a historic and systemic scheme of hiding abusers, withholding information from the public and caring more about its coffers than its most vulnerable members. This is not my opinion. Rather, this stance comes from the deposition transcript of Francis Cardinal George, who stated:
That he worked to reduce the 20 year prison sentence of a convicted child molester, Norbert Maday;
That he repeatedly refused to follow recommendations and promptly remove abusive Chicago priests from ministry;
That he appeared deeply conflicted between his concern for children and his duty to defend accused priests;
That he believed that at the time of his ascension to becoming Chicago’s archbishop in 1997 that sexual abuse by clergy was mostly a thing of the past;
That when Daniel McCormack was arrested in January 2006, he said: “We thought this was done, or at least contained” and
That he had knowledge that the vicar for priests, Rev. Edward D. Grace, and Auxiliary Bishop George J. Rassas withheld information about abuse allegations.
Moreover, this information only illustrates a small portion of what occurred in our archdiocese. This discussion does not even mention the atrocities of Boston, New York, Los Angeles or Minneapolis/St. Paul.
Also, let’s focus on the real issue at hand. The physical or sexual abuse of anyone, much less a child is reprehensible and should be punished to the fullest extent of the law. Rather, we are discussing the fact that the Church went out of its way to hide the perpetrators and stand in the way of the search for truth.
From my review, when this gross misconduct happens in a public school, the offender is usually prosecuted and routinely discharged from their employment. The school district generally doesn’t send the molester to another school in the area.
Instead of pointing fingers at what someone else might have done that might also be wrong, we should discuss the transgressions of our faith and community leaders to ensure that it never happens again. As former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis said, “Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.”
Make no mistake, I am not anti-Catholic. Rather, I am anti-hypocrisy. I want my Church to acknowledge its sins and atone for them. Stonewalling for decades, writing a check and then crying poor to its members are neither acknowledgment nor atonement.
I know that the publication of Fr. Russell Romano’s transgressions is painful and embarrassing for St. Barbara’s community, especially the authors of the opinion letter.
However, I submit, it is not nearly as painful and embarrassing to them as it is to the alumni of Archbishop Quigley Preparatory Seminary South from where Fr. Romano gathered his victims.
Scott Encher is Brookfield resident, attorney and alumnus of Quigley South Preparatory Seminary.