God is present, even amid struggle

As the Catholic Church struggles with the issue of sexual abuse, priests are feeling the ramifications of those who failed to live up to their priestly commitment.

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — In 2002, the first wave of child sex abuse scandals, which emanated from Boston, rocked the Catholic Church.

Sixteen years later, the church is experiencing a second wave of crisis in light of heartbreaking facts revealed by the Pennsylvania grand jury report and credible allegations of abuse against Archbishop Theodore McCarrick.

Priests and laity across the country can’t help but feel the effects.

In response to the crisis and in order to explain the many ways in which the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas is ensuring its churches, schools and various agencies are held to the highest standards of safety, The Leaven is undertaking a series of articles themed “Safeguarding the Faithful.”

No series on this topic, however, should start off without talking to the men on the front lines, so to speak. In this first piece, Leaven reporter Olivia Martin interviews several priests of the archdiocese on their perspective, their morale and the road ahead.

by Olivia Martin
olivia.martin@theleaven.org

Like the laity they serve, the priests in the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas are feeling the weight of the reality of child sex abuse in the church.

“There are feelings of anger and disgust, shame and sadness among my brother priests,” said Father Francis Hund, the archdiocesan minister to priests.

“[We are] feeling great disappointment or a betrayal of trust,” he added, “especially . . . in church leaders who have abused the trust that we’ve placed in them.”

Father Tom Dolezal, pastor emeritus of Holy Trinity Parish in Lenexa, feels the bitter ramifications of belonging to a clergy containing members who have failed to live up to their priestly commitment.

“What bothers me today with this whole thing,” he said, “is that they stole our reputation. My reputation as a priest is gone.”

But the anger and hurt isn’t the whole story.

Father Viet Nguyen, associate pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Shawnee and chaplain of St. James Academy in Lenexa, has found in his own life that allowing himself to feel the emotions of hurt and betrayal is essential for the healing to start.

“People might stay in the church [after this crisis],” he said, “but [they] might always be resentful because they never experienced the mourning process.”

Father Hund agrees.

“All of us are wounded,” he said, “but we have to let the wounds be transformed into a source of healing.”

A wake-up call

“The abuse that’s come out about the priests,” said Father Dolezal, “I really see it as a wake-up call for the church.

“I think the laity are encouraging the clergy to be strong in our commitment.”

The process of rebuilding trust between, on the one hand, the laity and priests, and, on the other, the church hierarchy, could be a long one.

But in a way, it is similar to the healing that had to take place to get past the first abuse crisis in the years immediately following the June 2002 “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.”

At the heart of it, of course, is the realization that the Catholic Church is more than the men who minister in it — and even those who govern it.

“I often tell my parishioners,” said Father Dolezal, “if you’re basing your faith on me, I’m going to disappoint you at times.

“I might even scandalize you at times — because I’m human.

“But I am trying to be Christ-like.”

Letting hope lead

In the face of struggle, fractured trust and abuse, what can restore credibility to the church?

“The only way we can rebuild trust,” said Father Hund, “is by our daily actions and words.”

He and others pointed to actions, prayer and honesty as starting points.

“I know it might sound weird,” said Father Nguyen, “[but] actually, [the exposure of the abuse] gives me a lot of hope for the future.

“Now that it’s being looked at and addressed, we will be stronger for this in the future.”

For Father Hund, the example of lay Catholics has been integral to his keeping hope in the face of the many difficulties life presents.

“Folks come for daily Mass here [at Prince of Peace in Olathe] at 6:15 in the morning — I think, what great faith!” said Father Hund.

“God’s hand is at work,” he added, “even in the midst of struggle.”

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