Jueves 11 de Abril de 2002, Ip nš 12

U.S. catholics, sad and angry, still keeping faith
Por Dan Barry And Robin Toner

Bob Dugan, Roman Catholic, says he is no fan of his local diocesan leadership or, for that matter, of Pope John Paul II. He dreams of a Catholic Church in which priests can marry and have children, women can be ordained as priests, and homosexuals can feel welcome without question. He is also beside himself with anger and sorrow over the recent revelations of sexual abuse that have so rocked the church he loves.

That is right: Mr. Dugan may be a dissident, but he loves his church, and would never dream of leaving his faith. Doing so, he says, would be like denying that he is of Irish-Slovak heritage, or that he lives in Liverpool, N.Y., just outside Syracuse. His faith, he said, is based on the teachings of Jesus Christ, and not what he calls the man-made rules of the church's political hierarchy. He will continue to serve as a lector at St. Joseph the Worker parish, he said, while working for change through Call to Action, a progressive Catholic organization.

''If a family can't get together and discuss its differences, then it's dysfunctional,'' said Mr. Dugan, 68, an owner of a brokerage firm in downtown Syracuse. ''And that's what this is all about: it's dysfunction.''

As Mr. Dugan suggests, the crisis within the American Catholic Church now resembles an anguished argument among troubled relatives, none of whom is ready to disown the family. This shared anger -- distressing, yes, but deal-breaking, no -- surfaced in discussions last week with people from across the country, and from different points along the Catholic spectrum: left, center and right; lay, clerical and academic. Those interviews suggest that most American Catholics have no intention of leaving because of the scandal.

Many, in fact, see the chance for institutional changes, although there is fierce disagreement on what those changes should be. Many also continue to draw distinctions between their faith and the pronouncements and practices of their church leaders.

''Because it's a family, Catholics around the country won't give up on it very easily,'' said R. Scott Appleby, director of the Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism at Notre Dame. ''There will be outrage and embarrassment and anger, but the church is often referred to as Holy Mother Church. And you might get angry with your mother, but it's your mother.''

That kind of anger was palpable in the basement of St. Ignatius Church in Baltimore last Sunday, where parishioners gathered for coffee after the 10:15 Mass. Upstairs, the cross and statuary had been wrapped in the mournful purple of the Lenten season, the music had been stirring, and the liturgy had focused on the story of Lazarus. Downstairs, the talk was of scandal and faith.

''It's a problem that needs addressing, but in no way is it an issue that separates a believer from God,'' said Mary Hoff, a pastoral counselor. Dr. Paul McHugh, the retired chairman of Johns Hopkins University's psychiatry department, agreed, dismissing as ''ridiculous'' any suggestion that the scandal might temper his faith.

''What did surprise me was the response of the world out there: that they somehow thought Catholics wouldn't be infuriated by this and do their best to stop it,'' he said. ''I mean, I grew up in a little Catholic ghetto up in Massachusetts back in the 30's. If there'd been anything like that there, there would've been broken heads amongst the priests.''

Of course, it did happen in Massachusetts. A growing number of Catholics in that state are calling for the resignation of Cardinal Bernard F. Law, after disclosures in The Boston Globe that the Archdiocese of Boston had moved a priest, accused of being a child molester, from parish to parish. That priest, since defrocked, is now serving a prison sentence for abusing a 10-year-old boy, and Cardinal Law has apologized and given local prosecutors the names of dozens of priests who at some point have been accused of sexual abuse.

Beyond the laity, the revelations have shaken the priesthood to its core. The Rev. Francis H. McGauley, an associate pastor at St. Ignatius who spent 31 years as a Jesuit missionary in India, said that he found himself becoming topical during a recent church service while thinking about Jesus weeping over Jerusalem. Given the news of the day, he said, he told his congregation that he felt like ''weeping over Boston.''

''I feel sad,'' said Father McGauley, 79, sitting in a small chapel on a rainy Sunday. ''I feel sad for the church. I feel sad for the people.''

''Maybe,'' he said, ''God is trying to say something to us.''

The Boston scandal and similar revelations in dioceses around the country have renewed the debate about the church's adherence to an all-male, all-celibate priesthood, and have provided a wide-open opportunity for those who advocate a greater role for the laity.

From the progressive wing of the church, there are those like Mr. Dugan, who said Cardinal Law's resignation would ''make my heart jump for joy,'' because it might loosen the hierarchy's grip, allowing for a more vital role for the laity.

''He has an obligation as a priest, as a pastor, to do what is right: resign,'' Mr. Dugan said. ''He wasn't true to himself as a priest, and he wasn't true as the leader of the archdiocese. Look at what he's done to the image of the priesthood in Boston.''

Mary Jo Bane, a professor of public policy at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government, recently declared in Commonweal, the magazine of the Catholic laity, ''Despite the long-ingrained tendency of lay men and women to defer to the hierarchy, lay people have both the right and the responsibility to make their voices heard.'' She added, ''Those who love the church grieve over what happened to it in Boston but persist in hope for what it can become.''

Meanwhile, from the more conservative wing of the church, there seems to be, at best, muted support for Cardinal Law and the hierarchy. ''Normally, after being on television and being quoted in the press, I would get a certain amount of reaction from conservative Catholics blasting me and criticizing me: How dare I criticize the good cardinal?'' said the Rev. Richard McBrien, a liberal theologian at Notre Dame University. ''And that group is in silence. They're in stunned silence.''

Silence does not come naturally to William Donohue, who as president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights often makes the news with his accusations of anti-Catholic bias in movies, television and the news media. Regarding the church hierarchy's handling of sexual abuse in the priesthood, he said: ''I am not the church's water boy. I am not here to defend the indefensible.''

Mr. Donohue said that while progressive Catholics were seizing the moment to push for changes, conservative Catholics were just as angry with the church hierarchy ''for dereliction of duty.''

He also sounded what has become a dominant theme in the conservative reaction to the scandal: that the victims of sexual abuse were primarily adolescent boys -- not younger children -- and that there is a link between the abuse and the number of gay men in the priesthood.

He said that many conservatives saw the need for the wholesale removal of priests, straight and gay, who break their vows of celibacy. ''There's an awful lot of Catholics who believe that a smaller church would be a better church,'' he said. ''Made smaller by saying that those priests who are really in open rebellion against the church's sexual ethics should be forced to resign -- and that's quite a few.''

Over all, Mr. Donohue said, the priesthood had ''gone soft,'' avoiding discussions of punishment and hell in favor of sentimental pieties. ''That's the biggest change,'' he said. ''A certain unmanliness has taken place.''

To which Sally Orgren of Williamsville, N.Y., a Buffalo suburb, responded: ''Oh, my gosh, isn't that sad?'' She is 72, the mother of six, a member of Call to Action and a proud graduate of a high school run by Dominican sisters. She preferred to frame the debate in terms of creating a healthier sexual environment in the priesthood by opening it up to women and married men, rather than by shrinking it through a kind of celibacy crackdown.

''It's an immature culture,'' said Mrs. Orgren, who with her husband, James, a former Trappist monk, regularly attends Mass at the Newman Chapel on the campus of the University at Buffalo. ''It's frozen in immaturity, and when they get out of the seminary after a very protected experience, they have to face real life; it is sometimes overwhelming.''

Somewhere in the middle of this emotional internal debate are the active, churchgoing Catholics of a parish like St. Peter's, in the booming suburb of Olney, Md., just outside Washington. Their pastor, the Rev. Tom Kalita, gathered a group of them in the big, modern rectory last week -- most of them self-described ''cradle Catholics,'' many of them on the parish council -- to reflect on the scandal and its aftermath.

These were not dissidents; most volunteered that they were quite happy with a celibate priesthood, for example. Now and then they became defensive, saying that the incidence of pedophilia was no greater within the Catholic Church than within other religions or professions.

''There are millions of children who have been helped, and there are many more priests who have given their lives to serve other people,'' said Rosemary Popdan, 55, who had celebrated the confirmation of one of her five daughters the day before.

Still, they were clearly pained by the resurrection of an all-too-familiar subject. In 1995, the Diocese of Washington was hit by accusations of sexual abuse 20 years earlier involving four priests, one of whom was known by several of the people gathered at the rectory.

''I knew one of them very well,'' said Peggy Slattery, 57. ''I would never have guessed it.'' She said that her reaction to the scandals of today ''is the same as it was then.''

''It grieves me terribly,'' she said. ''It makes me very sad, because I'm a mother and a grandmother and I'm a very active Catholic, and I love my faith and I love my church.''

But Mrs. Slattery and other parishioners at St. Peter's said that their diocese had handled the earlier scandal well. Thomas J. Cioffi, 53, a sergeant in the Montgomery County Police Department and the father of five, said that he underwent extensive psychological testing before becoming a deacon two years ago.

''I was grilled, I don't mind telling you,'' he said. ''I've been a cop 32 years, and I was raked over the coals by someone who could be my daughter. But you know, I understand the importance of that.''

Mr. Cioffi said the church needed to adopt a national standard similar to the Washington Diocese's ''proactive, no-nonsense remedy.'' Only then, he said, could it ''begin to regain the confidence and the trust of the faithful in their church and in their priests.''

Father Kalita sat down to join the discussion. He talked about how things had changed: how, as a young man in the seminary, he had been encouraged ''to get close to families, to come down off that pedestal.'' How, when he was a young priest, widows would ask him to spend time with their young sons.

Now, he said, when he sees a teenager from the parish who could use a ride home, he is reluctant to offer it. Everyone in the room agreed that this was very sad.

  24/03/2002. The New York Times.