Priests Seek Forgiveness
Atonement Service: Archbishop Hanus Apologizes for Clergy Who Preyed upon Children

By Mary Nevans Pederson
Telegraph Herald [Dubuque, Iowa]
March 11, 2003

Words of sorrow, guilt and apology rose from the Catholic clergy of Dubuque Monday night as they asked forgiveness for fellow priests who sexually abused children, and for bishops who covered up their crimes.

Dubuque Archbishop Jerome Hanus, OSB, led about 20 white-clad priests and deacons in a service of atonement and forgiveness at St. Raphael's Cathedral. Hundreds of Catholic faithful filled the pews to hear a solemn message of anguish for sins committed and pain ignored.

Hanus apologized from an "aching heart" for the priests who preyed upon children and the bishops who "were more concerned with the reputation of the church" than with punishment for the perpetrators or justice for the victims. He asked forgiveness from abuse survivors, their families, the rest of the church and God.

Though the clergy seeking forgiveness Monday were not the abusers, Hanus said they were speaking as part of the close-knit "brotherhood of priests."

"We are in solidarity with one another. But true brothers do not tolerate crimes committed by their brothers," he said.

Hanus prostrated himself before a tall wooden cross in front of the congregation. The other priests and deacons also lay face down around the cross and altar, while a litany of repentance was sung. As they left, Hanus and each of the clergy made a small cross on their foreheads with ashes "as a sign of sorrow."

Kathy Klein, of Dubuque, was moved by the archbishop's homily. She is a member of the archdiocese's sexual review board.

"What the archbishop said was his strongest and most detailed statement yet. It reflected his own deep disappointment with those priests and some bishops. He had the rapt attention of the entire congregation," she said.

David and Karma Wannamaker, of Dubuque, were frustrated by the service. The couple started the northeast Iowa chapter of Voice of the Faithful, a national lay organization created in response to the clergy sex-abuse scandal.

"Where were the real abusers? Those priests up there were just stand-ins. Why humiliate good priests like this?" David Wannamaker asked.

Melvin Loes, of East Dubuque, Ill., who is also a member of the review board and a victim, said he was contacted by organizers while the service was being planned.

"I think the service was a good idea. Most priests now haven't done anything wrong and this shows they are trying to do the right thing," said Loes, who was abused by a Dubuque priest when he was a teenager.

Benita Kirschbaum, of Bloomington, Minn., asked "Who is being forgiven?" in the atonement service. Kirschbaum, who did not attend the service, is a plaintiff in a class-action lawsuit filed against the Dubuque Archdiocese and other Catholic institutions. The suit says she was sexually abused by a Dubuque parish priest who died in 1998.

"No apology on the part of these 'real priests' matters to us victims/survivors," she said when she learned of the service. Kirschbaum called on the priests to force "reform, justice, openness and honesty" from their local and national leaders.

"I would rather see more of their real guts than their bowings and sorrys," she said.

Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.