Archdiocese Keeps Faithful Amid Crisis
Scandals Had 'Zero Effect' on Donations, Officials Say

By John J. Shaughnessy
Indianapolis Star [Indianapolis IND.]
June 6, 2003

While the Catholic Church's sexual abuse crisis continues to create headlines, officials of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Indianapolis say there has never been a monetary payment in a lawsuit involving a sex abuse case.

Officials also say the priest scandals in the past 18 months have not had a negative impact on local attendance at Mass, parish collections or school enrollment.

The archdiocese's assessment comes one year after the U.S. Catholic bishops met in Dallas to address the scandal, which has led to the resignations or suspensions of more than 300 priests and at least six bishops in the United States -- including three priests from the Indianapolis Archdiocese.

"The archdiocese has never made a monetary payment in a lawsuit involving a sex abuse case," said Greg Otolski, a spokesman for the archdiocese. "The only money that's ever been paid is this money that we just agree to pay right up front for documented medical and counseling expenses."

Those up-front payments total $34,000 in the past year for counseling and treatment of people who said they were victims of sexual abuse by an archdiocesan employee, he said.

"We're not going to get into talking about numbers of complaints," Otolski said. "If people want counseling, we pay for that and treatment. We've been encouraging that in the past year."

The scandals have had "zero effect" on attendance at Mass, collections and school enrollment in the archdiocese, he said.

"We really haven't seen drop-offs there," he said.

Since 1998, collections on Sundays and the Catholic Church's holy days have increased each year in the archdiocese, according to Chief Financial Officer Jeffrey D. Stumpf.

In 2001, before the scandals started to become public, collections for Sundays and holy days in the archdiocese's 150 parishes totaled $55,450,601. In 2002, when the scandals became national news, collections for Sundays and holy days totaled $58,567,102.

"I think that means strong support for leadership in our diocese," Stumpf said.

Otolski noted that some Catholic schools in the archdiocese have waiting lists and that more than 1,100 people joined the church at Easter -- a number that places Indianapolis among the top 10 percent of dioceses in the United States.

"Our attendance at Mass is up," said the Rev. James R. Wilmoth, the pastor of St. Roch Catholic Church on the Southside. "People are still giving. We're a little ahead of the year before. I had 32 new Catholics come into the church at Easter. That's the most we've ever had."

The situation in the archdiocese -- which contains about 230,000 Catholics and 267 priests across Central and southern Indiana -- seems to counter a national poll of Catholics that reports weekly attendance and giving have been affected by the priest scandal:

. Forty percent of Catholics nationally said the sexual abuse crisis made them less likely to contribute money to the Catholic Church, according to a Gallup Poll taken in December.

. Catholic World News reported, "For the first time in the decades-long history of the Gallup survey, Protestants now attend weekly church services at a higher rate than Catholics, 47 percent to 41 percent."

Beyond financial concerns, some local Catholics believe the church and the archdiocese are paying a high spiritual and psychological price for the crisis of the past year.

"The crisis is still with us," says Ken Sauer, an Indianapolis resident and a member of Voice of the Faithful, a national organization of lay people hoping to change the church by sharing power with its hierarchy.

"I think we've not yet had full disclosure," Sauer said. "I still think there are a lot of people who are upset about the way the hierarchy has responded."

University of Notre Dame theology Professor Lawrence Cunningham says the events of the past year have raised the consciousness of the Catholic Church about the need to be more sensitive toward sexual abuse victims and more forceful with abusers.

"Unless a bishop is suffering from terminal stupidity," Cunningham said, "there will be no stonewalling or quietly transferring a priest from one parish to another."

He said he hopes the long-range effects of the crisis will include better monitoring of candidates for the priesthood. He also sees hope in the review boards that dioceses have established to investigate allegations of sexual abuse.

Richard Grana is one of five lay people on the six-person review board for the Indianapolis archdiocese. The board advises Archbishop Daniel Buechlein, who has ultimate authority over handling abuse allegations.

Grana believes the board is making a difference.

"I believe the public is aware that there's a group of individuals that is focused on meeting the needs of the community," he says. "It's a group of very dedicated people who are approaching this with a sense of fair-mindedness and seriousness."

One point of agreement emerges from all the diverging voices. It's shared by Margaret Moriarty, a parishioner at Little Flower Catholic Church on the Eastside.

"Looking backward will not help us," Moriarty says. "Standing still will not help us. And screaming and shouting will not help us. We have to go ahead. This is a problem that is not going to go away right away.

"We must pray for our priests. It has been a great concern to all of us."


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