The Jesuits didn’t show up a week ago Monday at a forum hosted by Ascension Parish in their social hall. Something about not giving them enough time, not going through proper channels, yadda, yadda, yadda.
Frankly, I thought the Jesuits were better than this, and Ascension’s pastor, Rev. Larry McNally, plus a good portion of the 100 plus in attendance seemed disappointed, too. Maybe the Jebbies were miffed, hoping to shuttle Rev. Larry Reuter off to a quiet retirement without drawing too much attention. But Pastor McNally demanded transparency, so the story went public.
Or maybe they just didn’t want to get yelled at.
Judging by some of the comments, they would at least have been asked for a more complete explanation on why Rev. Reuter was removed and why it took so long to go public about it.
Apparently the Jesuits haven’t mastered the lessons the Archdiocese of Chicago learned the hard way over the last 20 years. But the archdiocese had a couple of advantages. They had Joseph Bernardin, a cardinal with a clue, unlike the archdioceses of New York and Boston and pretty much everywhere else. Bernardin set the tone and though Chicago has suffered plenty of missteps over the years (most recently the McCormack case), they now know you can’t run and hide when abuse is alleged.
Jan Slattery of the Archdiocesan Office for the Protection of Children and Youth sat on the panel the Monday before last and though she sounded canned at times, that partly comes from extensive practice handling similar situations. At least she didn’t sound condescending, evasive or institutionally paranoid like so many Church officials do. Fortunately for her, this case falls under the jurisdiction of the Jesuits, who are making the Archdiocese look positively transparent by comparison.
John Williams, head of Oak Park Township Youth Services, also sat on the panel. He’s a parishioner, his kids attend the parish school and he knows how to talk to nervous parents about tough issues. His no-nonsense, common-sense approach is reassuring without sugar-coating the situation.
“There are no 100 percent guarantees when it comes to our kids’ safety and protection,” he told one anxious mother, “but we can have influence.” You have to talk to your kids about sexual abuse, he said – not once but over and over till they get it and know what to do and feel comfortable telling you if anything happens.
“I’m in this fight,” he told her.
But the best thing the archdiocese has going for it is a priest like Larry McNally. He’s earned his reputation for integrity and, most important, he’s not a company man. That no doubt irritates the hierarchy, but it’s invaluable at the grass-roots level. The main casualty of the abuse scandal is trust. You can never say never anymore about any priest or bishop, sad to say, but McNally is as close as it comes to a priest you can believe in without reservation. Ascension is lucky and they know it. The archdiocese is lucky, but they don’t know it. The Catholic Church overworks their priests and doesn’t treat them with the respect they deserve.
McNally took the step of hosting this forum because he knows people need to express their feelings and opinions when allegations of abuse by members of the clergy, even part-time weekend help, hit close to home.
Sentiments covered the spectrum – from fear for children’s safety to the frustration of feeling you always have to defend being Catholic to noting that Reuter doesn’t appear to be a serial predator of young children, but a decent man who slipped up at least once, maybe twice with young adults (albeit young adult students). One or two people even raised the possibility that Reuter, post-treatment, might be allowed to come back to say Mass at Ascension.
That isn’t going to happen, of course. Second chances might have been possible if the Church hierarchy hadn’t spent decades stonewalling and covering up. Now that church officials have been tainted along with abusers, the institution is forced to practice zero tolerance in order to re-establish its badly shaken credibility.
To underscore that credibility gap, a group of observers, including Sandy Stilling Seehausen, president of Chicagoland Voice of the Faithful and a member of Coalition of Concerned Catholics, along with three survivors of clergy sexual abuse, took part in the proceedings. They gave the evening, and Ascension, generally high marks for dealing with this issue, but their presence was also a reminder that an error-prone Church still needs supervision because old habits die hard.
Transparency is fine, in other words, but it must be followed by accountability. The evening ended with calls to keep the heat on the Jesuits to show up.