Students react to Catholic priest scandal

In the past few months, numerous Catholic priests around the world have been accused of molesting children within their parishes. The multimillion dollar settlement in a case involving the cover up of a Boston priest’s molestation of a ten-year old led the Catholic Church to turn over 90 names of priests who have been accused of sexual abuse. Two priests were arrested in the recent Candyman sting operation. Most of the Catholics interviewed felt the way the media has focused on the Catholic Church has been unfair. They feel the problem is being made out to be much larger than it really is.”The church got attacked,” said Frank Benavidez, a chaplain at the Holiday Prison, “Their job (the media’s) is to pick what will cause questions, what will cause controversy, what will make excitement.””The media tries to stereotype priests as being sex scandalizers,” said Michael Morel, a music therapy student. Morel, who has some interest in the priesthood, said he believes the stereotype could be harmful to the priest-parishioner relationship. “I don’t want them thinking you know ‘oh he could be perverted so stay away from him.'” Morel said. “I don’t want that kind of relationship if I become a priest.” Dr. Renee James, assistant professor of physics, said the media has focused so intently on the scandals because of the Catholic Church’s views on certain issues. “I think that the media actually despises the fact that Catholicism will not budge on issues like abortion and women’s ordination and various sexual morality.” “The media is just always looking for a story,” said Nathan Eschenburg, a junior management information systems major. “Corruption happens in the world every day but just because it has to do with religion that puts a spotlight on it.”Many felt that the number of priests who commit child abuse is just a small percentage and no greater than most other professions. Benavidez said only 2 percent of priests are sex offenders but the entire clergy is chastised anyway. “The percentages are exactly the same as for the rest of the population,” said James. “Its not like here is this evil Catholic empire look at what they do. It’s just here are people, here is a cross section of humanity and that cross section is just as screwed up as the rest of humanity,” she said. Others felt the media was only fulfilling its societal duty by covering the story. Dr. Ardyth Sohn, a journalism professor, disputed the idea that the media was merely looking for an easy kill. “Whether or not the media might or might not be targeting the church is irrelevant. The media in this case are just reporting charges that have been filed, crimes that have been committed and that is their job,” she said. “I see no cover-up here or no effort on the part of the media to target one particular group other than people who are charged with this type of obscene behavior.”Steve Garner, a senior English major, agreed that the media is merely doing its job. “I don’t think they intentionally set out to destroy the church,” he said. “There is corruption going on and its the media’s job to find it out and tell it to the rest of the people.” Derek Stanley, a junior criminal justice major, said that the church is a media target but that Catholics should not be surprised. “Historically you have the media attacking the church on a variety of topics,” he said. He pointed out that throughout the history of Catholicism in America, numerous Catholic ethnic groups such as Italian, Irish and Mexicans have been persecuted. When asked what, if anything, needed to be done to discourage this type of aberrant behavior from priests most agreed the screening process for prospective seminarians needs to be improved. However, there was little support for changing the Catholic Church doctrine that decrees priests must not marry. “It has nothing to do with celibacy,” said Benavidez. He cited research stating that most sex offenders were white, middle-aged, married fathers. “If he has that disease within him it doesn’t matter whether he is married or not,” he said. James said the Catholic Church should not alter its time-honored traditions just because of popular opinion. “It would be a big mistake if the Catholic Church made changes as a result of a media blitz,” she said. “The church must stand by its doctrine or it will lose a part of itself,” said Matt Duhon, a non-Catholic history major. “Once you start changing the actual foundations of the Catholic Church you are longer the Catholic Church,” he said.Eschenburg said the Bible states that a priest is to be married to the church and should have no other obligations. Many other Catholic students said they didn’t want a priest to be divided between his congregation and his family. Many non-Catholic students felt that forcing priests to remain celibate creates a dangerous situation. “There is way too much sexual energy being pent up and it has got to come out some way and you’d hope that it wouldn’t be like this,” said Garner. “They should allow them to be married. I think they would be less sexually frustrated,” said Rebecca Perry, a freshmen political science major. However, Perry said she does not expect anything to be done. She said she thinks the church has known about this problem for quite some time. “I think it’s laughable that they try and pretend that it hasn’t been going on since the beginning of the church. And the pope can be like ‘Oh, this is a totally new thing and I frown upon it’ without taking any action,” she said.Sohn said allowing priests to marry could have some mild positive results. “People who are not interested in being priests or nuns maybe because they want to have a normal, functional sexual life are not applying for this kind of job,” she said. “Maybe if there was marriage it would allow these people… to take on the role of priests or nuns.”Many found that the cover-up following the incidents was even more revolting than the offense itself. Once Catholic authorities became aware of the priest’s actions they were often merely switched to a new diocese. “There is no excuse for putting children in danger, ever. Anyone who was not taking steps to protect children needs to be punished,” Sohn said. Garner said he was not surprised by the Catholic Church’s actions. He believes modern faiths have become more about image than being a community safe haven. “For the church to continue it needs members. If there is something going on that’s going to drive the members away, that’s the hurting the business side of it. It has become more capitalism than religion,” he said. Matt Duhon predicted the behavior of the church and its priests would have a detrimental effect on the future of the church. “The Catholic Church is honestly headed for a downfall,” he said. However, none of the Catholics interviewed felt the recent events would have any negative bearing on the strength of their faith. On the contrary, many felt their faith has been strengthened by the events. They maintained that they have no ties to those who committed the acts or to those who sought to hide the truth. Benavidez said his relationship with God would always be more important than the actions of a few members of his religion.”My faith is not dependent on a person,” he said.

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