ST. FRANCIS — Fr. Richard Stoffel said he has always been complete and forthright with the people at St. Peter Parish, Slinger, where he is pastor. So they hear from him, in the bulletins or from the pulpit, what they need to hear.
Prior to the July 1 release of nearly 7,000 pages of documentation related to clergy sexual abuse in the Milwaukee Archdiocese, he let his parishioners know they could expect to hear more about it in his homilies.
“I really haven’t heard a lot of questions, and actually, that hasn’t surprised me simply because we’ve been attentive to the issues,” said Fr. Stoffel, who added some parishioners have said they appreciate being able to read the documents online, while the majority said they knew or heard enough and didn’t plan to read them. “We’ve told people what we anticipate them wanting to know, and we’re even including some of the common questions that were sent out to the clergy in a serial sort of way in our parish bulletins, so we’re addressing it proactively and, as a result, we haven’t been hit by a lot of questions.”
The information didn’t make for an uplifting homily, but Fr. Stoffel said it’s a responsibility pastors have for the well-informed, well being of their communities.
“There is really great power in staying together and I find that when people stay within the church they find their best chance for healing, and when people stay within faith, they find their best chance for help and, along the way,” he said. “I think that really that’s how God works – through all of us working through this muddle together.”
Fr. Dennis Budka, pastor at St. Anthony Parish, Menomonee Falls, also discussed the documents’ release in his weekend homilies.
He acknowledged that people are weary from hearing the upsetting news and that everyone wants a resolution, though there isn’t one yet.
“I emphasized that this problem is not restricted to the Catholic Church, that in our society, we have a deeper problem of dealing with issues of human sexuality,” he said, also emphasizing that children are the number one priority, the Faith In Our Future and stewardship funds are protected, and that parishioners could get full information at www.archmil.org.
“There will be some who will say, ‘Well, if the priests aren’t holy, nobody’s holy,’ and that’s exactly wrong,” Fr. Budka said. “The church is holy, but it needs to be redeemed at the same time, and the church is not just the priests. Holiness isn’t restricted to the priests or the religious – we’re all, by our baptism, called to holiness.”
No one stopped Fr. Budka after Mass, but Fr. Domenic Roscioli, senior priest of the archdiocese, said he talked with parishioners after celebrating Masses last weekend at Our Lady of Lourdes and St. Gregory the Great parishes, both in Milwaukee.
Many expressed disbelief in the way the cases were handled and believe the bishops should have acted immediately, never allowing a priest offender to be reassigned, he said.
“They just kind of expressed a lot of disappointment in the lack of leadership in dealing with it when it happened, and that’s pretty much what I’ve found people saying,” Fr. Roscioli said, adding that he’s heard that from pastors, too.
People are angry and upset, he said.
“I think they still come to church because they want to receive the Eucharist – there’s still the Body of Christ, it’s just that they want the sin acknowledged and dealt with rather than the cover up,” he said.
Fr. Steven Amann, pastor at St. Charles Borromeo Parish, Burlington, said he’s heard very little from parshioners since he discussed the release of the documents in his homily, noting that the acts done by priests were horrendous and that forgiveness was needed.
“I talked about the fact that as Christians, we need to forgive them for what they have done wrong and then also that the church needs to do everything it can, and I think is, to prevent people like that from being ordained,” Fr. Amann said.
Fr. Jeffery Prasser, shared pastor at St. Aloysius, Immaculate Heart of Mary and Mary Queen of Heaven parishes in West Allis, said none of the people in the pews mentioned the documents’ release to him, probably because they’re “exhausted” by everything.
He said it’s important to distinguish between the church and the priests themselves.
“You have to have a relationship with each one individually and that helps because you see past it then,” he said. “But at the same time, too, you’ve got to acknowledge it and you have to admit that in the past things have not been handled the way they should have been and, in fact,, there was a whole different sensibility about it in the past that we have thankfully grown out of.”