Catholic Church 'More at Peace' This Easter Season

By Steve Eighinger
Herald-Whig [Quincy IL]
April 18, 2003,4701,

The past year has been a tumultuous period for the Catholic church.

It was Easter 2002 when a nationwide scandal involving sex abuse and Catholic priests dominated headlines and talk radio across the country. The outrage even hit home when St. Thomas Seminary in Hannibal, Mo., which is now closed, was found to have allegedly harbored some cases of abuse decades earlier.

"There was so much sadness ... and a lot of tears," said the Rev. Mike Quinn of the Holy Family Catholic Church in Hannibal. "Many people had known those priests involved, and had also known (the person) who had accused them of the abuse."

A year ago this weekend, a magnifying glass was being held above the Catholic church amid the abuse controversy, which was fueled by what seemed to be daily revelations of more claims and crimes.

"People didn't like (what was going on) ... and I didn't like it either," said the Rev. Pat Pierceall of St. Joseph Catholic Church in Palmyra. "But people are understanding, forgiving, resilient. We are all human and when you are dealing with humanity there are problems."

Quinn believes the worst is over and the heaviness has lifted, returning this year's Easter focus to the reason for the season.

Pierceall agrees, feeling there is a more positive air.

"Easter is the highlight of our church year, a celebration of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ," Pierceall said. "This is the center of our faith. We put a great emphasis on this whole (season). These are very holy days, a very sacred time in our religion. Holy Week and Easter are big events."

"When you think of all the special days in the church year, these are the high point ... Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter," Quinn said. "The culmination of everything is Easter Sunday. Death did not have power over Jesus Christ."

Pat Atwell attends St. Peter Catholic Church in Quincy. He hopes the worst is over.

"It was definitely something which needed to be addressed," Atwell said. "It was tragic, but the bottom line is priests are people and make mistakes ... like all people."

Atwell said he was upset at the degree of "cover-up" past scandals had received, but says he has faith the church is doing all it can to prevent any further problems.

"I will be anxious to see if everything follows through," Atwell said. "Accountability will be the key."

The Rev. John Carberry of St. Boniface Catholic Church in Quincy remembers there were concerns within his parish about the scandal.

"There were questions about how they could have done that," said Carberry, who relied on prayer for guidance to help parishioners through the difficult time, always emphasizing how the strength of their faith would be pivotal.

Carberry notices a distinct difference in attitudes this spring.

"The church seems more at peace this year," Carberry said. "Easter is a really a joyous time, when Christ arose from the dead to give us all hope, even in the trials and troubles of our daily lives."

Pierceall said he is pleased with guidelines and procedures which have been instituted by the Catholic church to prevent problems in the future. He also feels, to a certain extent, the problem was blown out of proportion.

"It dealt with less than 1 percent (of priests), but the way (the media) treated it, it seemed like it was all over the place," Pierceall said.

Quinn said all Catholic church workers who have contact with children must go through workshops and is pleased with the process. He says it is all a process of helping restore trust.

Ray Heilmann is principal at Quincy Notre Dame and said his talks with local Catholic families have indicated they have not forgotten the tragedies, but are hopeful measures being taken to prevent future problems will be successful.

Heilmann said the news of the scandals of a year ago represented a "terrible" chapter in church history. Heilmann has been encouraged at the local and regional levels by steps which were taken - and he said are being strictly enforced - through the auspices of Bishop George Lucas of the Springfield Diocese.

"The Diocese has taken a very proactive stance, a strong stance," Heilmann said.

Heilmann said there are "no loopholes" for priests or anyone else who would endanger children. They will be removed and prosecuted.

Pierceall, who describes himself as an optimist by nature, said it is time for life to move on following the scandal. He said there has always remained one constant, the message of eternal life through belief in Christ.

"That never changes, " Pierceall said. "That's the name of the game."


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