By JOANNE FOX
Bishop Walker Nickless admitted there was merit in calling the past several months, “the summer of shame.”
“There was not the best response from the bishops to incidents of clergy sexual misconduct,” he said. “I am thankful for the support of many in our own diocese as the scandals were made public and express my sorrow for the victims of abuse.”
The bishop’s comments came at the second of three listening sessions – Holy Cross Parish, St. Michael Church, Sioux City – which offered the faithful an opportunity for conversation, comments and questions about clergy sexual misconduct, both at the national and local level.
A previous meeting had been held Oct. 3 at St. John Paul II Parish, Holy Spirit Church, Carroll. Joining the bishop were Amy Bloch, executive director of Catholic Charities and Father Brad Pelzel, vicar general.
Following the recitation of the rosary and introductory prayers, Bishop Nickless reminded the crowd that “I am your shepherd. You are my flock.”
“We have to deal with these issues,” he continued. “This is an opportunity for you to talk, to vent, to get angry, but most important, I need to ask you, ‘What should be done? What do we need to do considering what’s happened?”
The news of clergy sexual abuse makes for a difficult time for the church in the United States, Bishop Nickless acknowledged, and “as a matter of fact, in the world.”
“We thought we had pretty much handled the problem in 2002 and gotten a pretty good grip on what needed to be done,” he said. “We kind of did. We kind of didn’t.”
The Dallas Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People was set forth in 2002 by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. It is a set of rules, expectations and regulations to address the sin of clergy sexual misconduct by priests, deacons and laity who work with children.
Father Pelzel explained reports of cases of sexual misconduct and abuse by priests was “virtually unheard of” before 1900, yet changes in society and culture were “reflected in our priests.”
“Playboy came out in 1958,” he said, referring to the men’s magazine. “The sexual revolution took place in the late 1960s and into the 1970s.”
One societal change came about with the election of Karol Wojtyla as pope in 1979, Father Pelzel noted.
“John Paul II brought with him both the Theology of the Body and a fundamental change in our seminaries,” he said. “He changed how priests were formed. He started to look at all the things that make us tick.”
The vicar general recalled when he sought out the priesthood in the late 1990s, the diocesan application was 12 pages long.
“By the time I left as vocation director in 2015, the same application was 30 pages long,” Father Pelzel said.
Conduct response team
Bloch, who is a member of the diocesan review board, encouraged those who were victims of abuse or knew of someone who had been abused, to contact civil authorities immediately. Individuals may also contact the victim assistance coordinator, Angie Mack of Mercy Child Advocacy Center in Sioux City.
“That information appears in all diocesan churches and schools on posters,” Bloch said. “We want to make sure any victim would feel comfortable going to someone outside the church to make an allegation or complaint.”
As the bishop opened the opportunity to those in attendance to ask questions, individuals expressed their dismay over priests, bishops and cardinals who didn’t follow the doctrines of the church, Pope Francis on his silence on the abuse crisis in the U.S., the overlooking of consecrating the world to Our Lady of Fatima and the acceptance of homosexual behavior.
“We must remind ourselves we belong to the church because of Jesus Christ,” the bishop said. “My motto when I was named bishop is ‘Speak the Truth in Love’ and that is what I strive to do. Our church also teaches us mercy, forgiveness, love. We must remember to hate the sin but love the sinner.”
Bill Burrows, a parishioner at Holy Cross Parish, asked about the money spent to compensate victims.
“Some cases have been settled out of court and we have tried to be fair in determining the compensation involved in counseling and trauma,” Bishop Nickless responded, adding insurance policies, investment income and having the perpetrators provide sources of compensation also addressed the financial issues.
“However, no amount of money and no amount of counseling can restore the innocence of a child who has been abused, especially by a priest, who is a man of God,” the bishop insisted.