As Pope Francis met with leaders of the U.S. Catholic Church on Thursday to discuss the clergy sex-abuse scandal, Bishop Michael Sheridan, head of the Catholic Diocese of Colorado Springs, fielded questions on the topic from the public, during his first interactive Facebook Live session.
“It’s not an easy thing for me to talk about; it’s not an easy thing to hear about,” he said. “Because we take it seriously we’re not going to sweep it under the rug.”
Wearing a large silver cross around his clerical collar, Sheridan, who’s led the local diocese for 15 years, gave frank answers to questions about the most recent uncovering of clergy sexually abusing primarily teenage boys for decades and the church’s lack of response.
A 900-page investigative report a Pennsylvania grand jury released last month found more than 300 priests had sexually abused more than 1,000 children in six dioceses in Pennsylvania since 1947, often while church leaders covered up the crimes.
One, “offender” priest, the Rev. Stephen E. Jeselnick, had worked at Holy Trinity Parish in the Diocese of Colorado Springs from June 30, 1983, to Oct. 10, 1985.
But the Diocese of Colorado Springs “never received any reports or complaints that Jeselnick engaged in any type of sexual misconduct during the 28 months he served in the Colorado Springs parish,” Sheridan said
In fact, the local diocese has not had the problems that other dioceses have, Sheridan said, and has “never paid any money to keep an accuser quiet.”
The public could submit questions beforehand via email or during the Facebook Live event.
When asked whether homosexuality among clerics has been a contributing factor in the abuse, Sheridan said yes.
Studies done to determine the causes of abuse by clergymen “revealed very clearly” pedophilia in some cases and in most cases homosexual acts, he said.
“Which the church says are sinful whether they’re done by a priest or cardinal or anybody,” Sheridan said. “This is why the Vatican has responded by saying any candidate for the seminary who has a deep seated same-sex attraction must not be admitted. I’m not saying anyone who has same-sex attraction is automatically a predator and abusing young men; that’s not true.”
What about celibacy, someone asked. Should the Catholic Church allow priests to marry?
Sheridan said he doesn’t know if that has anything to do with the problem.
“The majority of priests and bishops are living holy lives of celibacy, as they have throughout most of the history of the church,” he said.
Celibacy is not just something priests have to do, Sheridan said. “Celibacy is a beautiful charism that is given to those who are ordinated, and if embraced, it makes our lives as priests very much easier. It lifts us up to where we can be spiritual fathers, not biological fathers.”
What he called the most important question he received was this: How can Catholics in the pews keep their faith? How can their trust be restored?
“Trust is restored only when those who have broken trust begin to demonstrate they are now living lives that can be trusted,” he answered. “I know the faith of many good people has been all but destroyed, I get that, I understand that. I’m rocked when I hear about things like this, but I cannot imagine turning away from the Catholic Church, the mystical body of Christ, the community of salvation.”
And “If anyone has doubted whether the devil is real,” Sheridan said, “I hope they realize he is now.”
Priests and bishops guilty of sexual abuse “cooperated with the evil one in perpetrating this,” he said. “The devil is behind all of this, and if our response is to say, ‘Well, I’m leaving the church,’ the devil has won.”
To those who ask what they can do, Sheridan responded, “Please don’t take this as pious fluff, please pray. Please pray that our priests, our bishops and everyone in the church will seriously come to be renewed in holiness, to live holy lives. In the end, that’s going to be the real answer.”
Sheridan also is advocating for independent oversight and investigation of clergy by a team of lay professionals, not church officials.
“We know the church will never be destroyed — Jesus promised that,” he said. “Could it become much, much smaller? Yes, it could. There have been times in history that has happened.
“We can’t let Satan drive us away. We’ve all been really just knocked in the gut over this, and yes, it’s affecting me and other good bishops and priests. Don’t let the devil have his way in the end.”
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