Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Parishioners publicly owning church's sin of clergy sex abuse

Parishioners publicly owning church's sin of clergy sex abuseBy Ed Langlois

The sackcloth patch symbolizes repentence.

This Lent, some Portland Catholics are repenting for horrific sins they never committed.
As clergy sex abuse lawsuits emerged over the past decade, news reports said the problem was something to be addressed by “the church.” The media and the their audience, including many Catholics, thought the term referred only to diocesan officials.
But Catholics like Ann and Quenton Czuba know better.
The Northeast Portland grandparents believe in the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, which emphasized that the church is the whole body of believers — laity, religious, clergy and hierarchy.
For the Czubas, the doctrine implies that they, too, bear responsibility for the sin of abuse. They have decided to step forward, say they are sorry and work toward healing.
To show their personal remorse, the retirees have pinned 2-by-2-inch patches of burlap on their clothes. In the book of Jonah — the reluctant prophet carried on his mission in the belly of a fish — the king of Nineveh repents for wrongdoing by donning sackcloth and sitting in ashes. Pondering Jonah’s word that God would destroy the city, the king orders every citizen to do the same.
“What ever happened to sackcloth and ashes?” Ann asked parishioners during Masses last weekend at The Madeleine Church. “Are we being asked to atone for the sins of our church? Could we help in any way to bring about healing?”
Last weekend, the Czubas handed out hundreds of the patches after Masses at The Madeleine. No one criticized the kindly couple for the idea. Some parishioners planned to take time to think it over.
Most worshipers accepted one, with many expressing relief and gratitude for the Czubas’ plan. Visitors even took the badges, some saying they would raise the idea at their own parishes.
“It’s like a wound was festering and someone put a dressing on it,” Quenton says, surprised at the big response.
A year ago, Ann was praying just before the end of the Archdiocese of Portland’s abuse-sparked bankruptcy. It occurred to her, as she read stories, that abuse victims think most Catholics don’t care. She felt called to create a sign that expressed sorrow and sought forgiveness. About the same time, she was struck by the story of Nineveh.
“We, as a church, need to atone for the sins of these priests and to let the victims know we care about them,” she wrote in a letter last year to Archbishop John Vlazny.
The archbishop approved of the idea. Then Jesuit Father E.B. Painter, pastor of The Madeleine, consulted the lay-led councils of the parish. Consensus emerged: Lent would be an ideal time for the spiritual project.
At Masses Sunday, Father Painter presided with one of the patches strung about his neck. He invited parishioners to discern whether they should wear one, too.
“This must be a peaceful choice for you,” he said.
The patches will be available in the back of the church for several weeks.
“There are people who will say, ‘Why should I wear one of these badges? I didn’t do any of this stuff,’” Father Painter told the congregation.
He then related the tale of the Virginia Tech shooter’s sister. She apologized last year on her family’s behalf for her brother’s terrible acts.The priest insisted that it is incumbent on Catholics to show sorrow for abuse done by others in the faith family.
“Healing and forgiveness may result,” he said.
The Czuba’s idea came to fruition in their small Christian community, about 15 people who gather regularly for prayer and meals. A pod of 10 or so actually made the patches, 950 of them, cut from burlap purchased at a fabric store.
At one point in church history, penitents wore hairshirts under their clothing. But the Czubas say this patch is best worn on the outside, where it will prompt questions in the grocery store, at the doctor’s office and in the street. The pair intend to give full explanations.
Other parishioners have embraced the project.
“It was a jolt for me at first but then I thought I did have responsibility for this,” says Sharon Burke, a Madeleine parishioner for 34 years.
Clergy sex abuse hit her family in another state and she felt more like a victim than anything.
“It made me really think about reconciliation,” Burke says of the sackcloth. “It brought me to a whole new level.”
Marie Hauth, a parishioner for 45 years, helped pass out the badges after Mass. She always felt the responsibility should be shared by the whole church and is glad to have an outlet for the idea. She is convinced the Holy Spirit guided the project.
The Czubas have no direct personal connection to the scandal. Neither they nor anyone in their family was abused.
They have been married for 48 years and have five children, 15 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Quenton wears a sweatshirt decorated with paint handprints of many of the youngsters.
The Czuba children and descendants have gone to Catholic schools, Quenton attended a seminary high school in California and Ann went to St. Mary’s Academy. For the Czubas, the church has been a joy and a treasure.
That is one reason the steady stream of abuse cases shocked them. They recalled the infamous criminal case of Father Thomas Laughlin at All Saints Parish in the 1980s. They thought it was an isolated event. It turns out there were hundreds of accusations in western Oregon.
The Czubas have attended a group at Ascension Parish in Southeast Portland where those abused or affected by abuse can tell their stories. About a dozen people come to the gatherings.
Participants liked the burlap patch idea and have promoted it at Ascension. Franciscan Father Armando Lopez is wearing one, saying the symbol is a step in bringing peace of mind to the abused and welcoming them back to the church.
“The victims are like people who have been struck by a car,” explains Quenton, who is retired from a local aluminum factory. “They need a visible sign of hope, mercy and compassion from the church. They need to be welcomed back home. They need a flicker of light that will lead them to Christ.”
The Czubas are aware that the healing process cannot be rushed, and that the abuse is something that should not really be forgotten, lest it happen again.
That’s why they intend to wear the patches for the rest of their lives.

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