August 12, 2011 – My Reactions

This week there were several news items, headlines, etc. that caught my attention, so I thought I would just throw them out there and give my reactions to them, for what they are worth.

Most Catholics in our area I’m sure saw the story that the Diocese of Belleville will no longer continue to appeal the case brought against it that it covered up known sexual abuse by Raymond Kownacki, and continued to assign him to parishes despite knowing that he was a pedophile.  The payment to James Wisniewski totaled $6.3 million after interest.  Some of this was paid by insurance, but much had to come from the coffers of the Diocese.  If you did not see the story, here is a link to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch article:

Bishop Braxton and Diocesan officials are taking a lot of heat for this, but having been in meetings where this was discussed and knowing a little about the circumstances surrounding this, I feel I can offer a little different perspective.  The Diocese throughout this process followed the advice of reputable attorneys who felt that the statute of limitations should apply in this case as it had been in the past, including an earlier case against Kownacki.  The decision by the Illinois Appellate court was not unanimous – it was a 2-1 decision, so there was a judge who felt the Diocese was in the right.  It appears that the law was not necessarily followed, but that an exception to the law was made in this case.  The arguments made by the appellate judges who ruled against the Diocese made little reference to the law.  The vast majority of their argument centered around the circumstances of the alleged abuse.

The diocese has also taken heat for not having direct contact with Mr. Wisniewski, not offering him an apology and not offering him help.  The reason for this is that Mr. Wisniewski never approached the Diocese seeking help.  The Diocese has and continues to provide help to those who claim that they have been victims of abuse, including paying for therapy and rehab, and providing other financial support.  Mr. Wisniewski never sought such help.  He simply saw a report about alleged abuse victims winning lawsuits and receiving large sums of money, and the lawsuit was filed.

Again, there is no excuse for the many cases of abuse and the hierarchy of the church not taking more timely action to quell the situation.  And those who are receiving help in forms of therapy, etc. are more than deserving of it.  But I would ask if simply receiving a large sum of money will make an individual’s situation better?  Has the individual thought about the implications for other people?  Will there be even more jobs lost if the Diocese cannot afford to continue to provide its current services?  Will people who rely on the generosity of services such as Catholic Charities or Catholic Urban Programs have to suffer?  Will people who are victims of abuse currently receiving help from the Diocese be left out in the cold?

The attorney for Mr. Wisniewski made the statement that “I hope this will help the Catholic community.”  It remains to be seen what the long term effects of this will be, but having to pay this judgement, and having other cases in the pipeline will force us to make tough decisions and put us in at least a short-term bind.  Did the Diocese handle this perfectly?  No.  I think Bishop Braxton should have been more open in providing information about the case to us.  But as is usually the case, there is more to these things than is on the surface, and even if I have over-stepped my bounds in sharing some of this information, I think it is information people have a right to know.  Obviously our Diocese and the Church as a whole needs our prayers as we continue to deal with the sins of the past.

There were a couple of other items that caught my attention this week.  An online petition began a little over a week ago by a gay and lesbian rights group saying that Sesame Street characters Bert and Ernie should be “married.”  My first reaction was yet another group of people with WAY too much time on their hands.  Then my thoughts were on the continued attacks on what marriage is.  Marriage is something that should not have to be defined – for umpteen years marriage has been a sacred bond between a man and woman who deeply love each other.  Just because culture has changed, doesn’t mean that definitions should change.  Marriage is something that should not have to be given a label such as “same-sex” marriage or “mixed marriage”.  Marriage is marriage, and we as catholics who abide by biblical principles should fight to keep this bond sacred.

On a more positive note, I saw an interesting blog this week by a member of the USCCB staff about our devotion to Mary.  She refers to Mary as the “milk and cookies” of Catholicism, or in other words the one who provides us comfort and nurturing on our times of need.  Here is the link to the full article:

The article points out a misgiving of the Catholic faith that we “adore” Mary and the saints.  The truth of course is that we pray for the saints to intercede on our behalf when we call upon them.  I could actually expand beyond the reference to our Blessed Mother and say that our entire faith provides us a dose of “milk and cookies”.  It provides us hope when it seems hope is lost, it provides us a respite when the world around us has beat us down, and it provides us the promise of eternal life if we live by God’s commands. 

I can’t believe that school starts again this week.  I with all of our students, parents, teachers and staff a successful year.  We have a wonderfully dedicated group of people who continue to make our school a very special place to be. 

Finally, as I wrap this up, the rain is falling!  Thank you Lord for the much needed moisture and the cooler weather.

Have a great week.  Peace.


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