Archbishop Offers Apology
Some Say the Healing Service for Local Catholics Wasn't Enough

By Alan Gustafson
Statesman Journal [Salem OR]
April 3, 2003

The sexual-abuse scandal that has rocked the Catholic Church in Oregon and across the country constitutes a "public shame" that can't be swept under the rug, Archbishop John Vlazny said Wednesday night in Salem.

During a prayer service at St. Joseph Church, Vlazny, spiritual leader of 350,000 Roman Catholics in Western Oregon, offered an apology to all people who have been victimized by priests.

Debbie LaCroix of Salem, among about 80 people who attended the service, said it was long overdue.

"I've asked eight years for a healing service for survivors," said LaCroix, who identified herself as a victim of clergy sexual abuse in Washington state.

To LaCroix, Vlazny's apology sounded hollow.

"I think right now it's still lip service from this bishop," she said.

The Archdiocese of Portland faces almost 50 lawsuits, alleging sexual abuse by clergymen. Overall, the suits seek more than $500 million in damages for more than 100 people who say they were victimized by priests.

The cases involve rapes, sexual assaults and molestations that allegedly occurred between 20 and 60 years ago. About 35 priests are named as defendants. Most of the accused are dead.

Locally, a dozen plaintiffs claim they were molested by four priests with ties to the Mount Angel Abbey, a 120-year-old monastery about 20 miles east of Salem.

In February, settlement talks aimed at averting years of costly litigation began between the church and the plaintiffs.

After Wednesday's service, Vlazny said he was hopeful that the ongoing negotiations would settle most, if not all, of the pending claims.

"Obviously, that's better for everyone," he said.

Vlazny said new allegations of sexual abuse by priests are "still coming forward, but they have slowed down."

In a recent letter sent to parishes throughout Oregon, Vlazny did not rule out the possibility of the Archdiocese of Portland filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy to relieve financial pressure arising from the scandal.

"I assure you that declaring bankruptcy will be a very last resort," he wrote in a letter dated Feb. 24. "Nonetheless, if it is the only prudent way to manage a chaotic financial situation and to preserve the ability of the archdiocese to fulfill its missions, I may have little choice but to take this step."

After the Salem service, Vlazny stressed that bankruptcy proceedings remain a remote option. "That's only if everything breaks down," he said.

In his message to worshippers, Vlazny said the church must continue making sincere efforts to heal the pain caused by the "terrible scandal."

Otherwise, he said, church leaders will have a hard time reclaiming their proper and traditional roles as teachers of morality.

So far, Vlazny and other Catholic Church leaders in Oregon have not done enough to

reach out to victims, said Bill Crane of Clackamas. He belongs to a group called SNAP, short for Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

Crane said he was molested by a priest in New Jersey before he "fled" to Oregon in 1992.

As he saw it, the Salem service fell short of providing true compassion and comfort for victims.

"This is supposed to be a healing service, but no voices of survivors were heard," he said. "That's not moving in the direction of disclosure. We're still treated as the adversaries of the church."

Alan Gustafson can be reached at (503) 399-6709.

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