Can Prayer Heal Sex Scandal?

By Priscilla Yeon
MetroWest Daily News [Natick MA]
February 19, 2003

NATICK -- Roman Catholics need to turn to prayer in this time when sex scandals among the clergy have shaken people's faith and replaced it with skepticism, the Rev. Benedict Groeschel said last night.

Groeschel, who goes by the name Father Benedict, is the author of "From Scandal to Hope," a book advocating reading the Gospel, devoting prayers to Christ and spirituality as a means of dealing with crisis.

Father Benedict, the director of the office for spiritual development in New York, has been traveling the United States addressing the church scandals. He found a receptive audience hungry for words of comfort at St. Patrick's Church last night.

So many people, more than 200, attended his sermon that some had to stand throughout the 90 minutes he spoke.

While recognizing there are priests guilty of the charges against them, Father Benedict criticized the media, saying it had blown the abuse scandal out of proportion, fabricated charges and had an agenda in the church's troubles.

He also had strong words for what he referred to as "Catholic institutions," accusing them of allowing philosophies inconsistent with the religion's principles and beliefs to flourish.

Although he never mentioned the school by name, Father Benedict clearly referred to philosophies accepted on campus at Boston College, which recently held a three-day discussion on abortion and sent a faculty member who is an atheist philosophy teacher to a religious symposium.

"Right now, it is very hard to be a church person in Boston," Father Benedict said. "In this crisis, it's very difficult to fulfill the rules because the church is humiliated. We are horrified by the scandal."

Father Benedict asked those in attendance to join him in a movement he is starting called the Oratory of Divine Love.

"All we ask people is to follow their prayers and the Gospel," he said.

He said people can use prayer to restore their faith.

"Ninety-eight percent of what there was in the media wasn't true," he said, growing visibly upset as he talked about reports of sexual misconduct in the past by Catholic clergy. "The purpose of the media in attacking the church is very clear."

He said by humiliating the church and mocking religion, secular institutions seek to achieve their ascendancy over religious life and promote their own political and economic interests.

The media craves people's attention by giving the scandal greater prominence than it deserves, he said.

He mentioned a New York Times editorial making fun of all religions, and asked those in attendance why they think one of Boston's major daily newspapers put the church scandal on the front page for 100 days in a row.

"Doesn't this strike you as a little odd?" he asked.

Father Benedict said Catholic seminaries and schools have strayed so far from their faith that they encourage blasphemy by denying the existence of God or saying events in the Bible, such as the miracle of the loaves and fishes, did not happen.

In that miracle, Jesus Christ is said to have divided a small number of fish and a few loaves of bread to feed thousands of hungry people who were following him, listening to his sermons.

"We have become irreverent, unbelieving, skeptical," Father Benedict said.

Pulling his rosary from his long gray robe, Benedict asked the audience to pray with him on behalf of the victims and the Catholic Church.

He concluded with the example of Mother Teresa, the missionary among the poor in Calcutta's slums, whom he said he knew for many years.

Father Benedict said Mother Teresa lived 45 years in "spiritual darkness" but she never lost her faith in Christ. "She is the mother of our times," he said.

Those who attended last night's talk liked what they heard.

"It was a very powerful speech in getting back to the basics of being a Catholic and the power of prayer in our daily lives," St. Patrick's parishioner Paul Thompson said.

"We are all searching for hope, and we found it in the talks of Benedict," said Dorothy Manning, a St. Patrick's parishioner for 43 years.

Manning said she was "deeply saddened" by the church scandal.

"My faith," she said, "is the core of my life."

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