Diocese to Strive for Healing
Bishop: Lenten Program Will Help Catholics Deal with Sex Scandal

By Genevieve Marshall
Of The Morning Call
January 13, 2003

The Diocese of Allentown will launch a special Lenten program to help parishioners deal with the sexual abuse scandal that has rocked the Catholic Church locally and nationally.

In a statement released in parishes throughout the diocese, Bishop Edward P. Cullen announced Sunday that the diocese would be one of the first internationally to participate in the program. The announcement also was printed in the Jan. 2 edition of The A.D. Times, the official diocesan newspaper.

The six-week program, Healing the Body of Christ, will bring together parishioners and clergy in small groups to discuss repentance and forgiveness, healing and spiritual growth, said diocesan spokesman Matt Kerr.

The process is designed to help Catholics move forward in a positive and constructive fashion after the highly publicized scandals, Kerr said.

''The intent is to help our people heal from the crisis,'' Kerr said of the diocese's 268,000 members in Lehigh, Northampton, Berks, Carbon and Schuylkill counties. ''These have been difficult times spiritually.''

The past year brought revelations that the Roman Catholic Church has long harbored sex abusers of children and othr young people. Of 325 priests ousted nationwide, seven served in the Allentown Diocese. An eighth priest resigned amid allegations of abuse.

Three in 10 Catholics, 30 percent, in a nationwide ABC-Washington Post poll said recently that they had an unfavorable view of their own church, up from 9 percent in February.

Among regular churchgoing Catholics, six in 10 said they disapproved of the church's handling of the issue.

Jeanine Breault, the Allentown Diocese's director of adult formation, said the timing is right for a new spiritual initiative.

The diocese finished participating this fall in Renew 2000, a 21/2-year program with five ''seasons,'' during which Catholics also met in small groups to discuss their faith and read Scripture.

''We need something to help us be open to healing and the restoration of trust,'' said Breault, who organized Renew 2000 programs for the diocese. ''I commend Bishop Cullen for giving us this opportunity. Now we need to go into it with open hearts.''

Healing the Body of Christ is the first spiritual program initiated in the diocese since the church's sex-abuse crisis.

The bishop announced earlier this month the formation of a seven-person panel, including six laypeople, to review allegations of child sexual abuse by priests and advise him on what to do about them. The committee was created to meet recommendations of a child-protection charter approved by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The literature for Healing the Body of Christ was created by Renew International of New Jersey, and the programming will be coordinated by the individual dioceses. The Allentown Diocese's 153 parishes will run their own programs, Breault said.

Breault and other diocesan administrators have begun meeting with parish leaders to train them for the discussion groups.

''Some parishes will have one meeting a week, and others will have 30, to accommodate their many members,'' Breault said. ''They will run it as they see fit.''

The program, which will begin the week of March 2 to coincide with Ash Wednesday and end the week before Palm Sunday, will have a different topic each of the six weeks, starting with ''the church in a time of a crisis.''

Other topics are saints and sinners; healing, repentance and forgiveness; relationships within the church and to the world; prayer and spiritual maturity; and God's gift of the Eucharist and other sacraments.

''We're dealing with the fact that we're all saints and sinners,'' Breault said. ''But our faith is not based on the priest — our faith is based on God. This program is supposed to remind us of that.''



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