Star-Bulletin Features

Catholic Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo talked Wednesday with Mary Adamski at St. Stephen's Diocesan Center. DiLorenzo just sent a letter to local parish pastors to thank them for acting nobly and well.

Isle bishop tries
to boost morale

Bishop DiLorenzo says all priests
are depressed about pedophile priests

By Mary Adamski

Recent allegations about children being abused by priests in several American cities led Hawaii's Catholic bishop to send a letter this week to local parish pastors.

"I wish to thank you for acting nobly and well," wrote Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo in what he frankly says was an attempt to boost morale among men who may feel they are in the shadow of the scandal. "I am grateful that you are making Jesus present to us all."

He said he asked priests "to review their life in the light of St. Augustine's vision of what is a good shepherd." His letter cited points that ranged from "nurture our parishioners as our primary goal, not exploit them," to "be on guard against temptation."

DiLorenzo said accounts about pedophile priests are depressing to all priests. "It's demoralizing because of the publicity it's getting. Statistically few people, given the vast number of priests, have indulged in this behavior. But this behavior is so grossly immoral and so violating the taboos in society that it's revolting. And when you find out that your own do these things and, in some cases, have not been handled well, it's even more depressing."

The bishop talked Wednesday about the firestorm of publicity and the Catholic Church's oversight of its clergy. He declined to discuss specific local cases, including the removal of four priests in sexual misconduct cases before his arrival and a pending lawsuit against a convicted lay worker in which he and the diocese have also been named as defendants.

"I'm like the parent, in a sense, that says my kids don't do drugs," the leader of Hawaii's 220,000 Catholics said. "You would like to think your kids don't do anything bad, and that's the way I'm handling this. With the new light on everything ... no one has come to me and said most recently, 'My kid has been abused.' And the police haven't contacted me.

"Are people dissatisfied with this particular priest who they say is living an immoral lifestyle? First of all, if he is abusing children, those people shouldn't be dilly-dallying. They should be going to the police and then letting us know."

DiLorenzo, whose church service was in Pennsylvania before he was appointed to Hawaii by the Vatican nine years ago, said, "It appears as if some people are painting the vast majority of priests with the same brush, and that's a shame."

He compared the fallout on all priests to the U.S. Navy's Tailhook scandal. Charges of rape and sexual assault of female sailors during a 1991 Las Vegas convention of officers led to dismissal of the secretary of the Navy and other high-ranking officers.

"Everybody that walked in a Navy uniform had to carry some of the shame of Tailhook" despite "how good and how innocent the vast majority of those people in the U.S. Navy were."

He described ways in which priests' conduct comes under regular scrutiny:

>> A requirement that each seminarian and any priest transferring here from elsewhere go through four days of psychological testing at a mainland facility run by the church.

>> His annual interview with each priest, who is also subjected to two annual reviews by the vicars with oversight of geographical districts. There are 60 local parishes and about 150 priests.

>> Intervention or removal of priests from positions they can't handle because of addictions or psychological problems. Although no one can be forced into rehabilitation or treatment, refusal leads to removal of his certification or "faculties" as a priest.

>> The "welcoming parish" program, which DiLorenzo instituted. Parishioners scrutinize their own programs and goals in a yearlong process, the finale being a chance to give feedback to the bishop on a weekend visit. Unlike other denominations, Catholics don't have a direct vote in choosing or removing their pastors, but this program is effective in discerning flaws in a man's ministry, the bishop said.

The "welcoming parish" process also brings out affirming remarks from Catholics, and that is what the bishop stressed in his letter to pastors. "They believe that the mission and ministry of Jesus is unfolding in their parishes," he told priests. "Most parishioners are generally satisfied with their shepherds and hold them in high regard. Most parishioners believe that their shepherds have acted nobly and well in most situations."

DiLorenzo recalled a recent news article about more than 1,300 sexual-abuse cases in Hawaii last year, a majority of which, according to state officials, occurred within families. "It reads the way the Catholic Church is alleged to be handling things: Families are not handling it all that well. But there was only this one story. You don't hear about anyone being bothered by the story; no one is following it up."

The fact that there is such a furor about the Catholic Church cases "signifies to me is that their expectations of us are very, very high."

"Nobody for a moment thinks other denominations haven't had the problem; statistically it has to have happened, because statistically other religious denominations have the exact same sexual issues that we have. Yet I never read about them in any of our local newspapers at all, ever."

The bishop hasn't put out a position paper to be read from the pulpit. "Priests are free to say whatever they want to say responsibly. I don't like to hand a priest a script. When they feel comfortable about the subject, they will speak from the heart and, hopefully, the head about what they know about the topic."

Don't expect the Vatican to respond quickly to the clamoring for removal of bishops who allegedly covered up misdeeds or failed to remove pedophiles from positions where they could harm children. Americans tend to think in terms of the U.S. political process, in which they can vote someone out.

"The constitution of the Roman Catholic Church, in terms of its vision of bishops ... he is supposed to be there for life, in a diocese. His mission and ministry is to be an icon of Jesus, the chief shepherd of that diocese and married to that diocese for life.

"Hence the ring. It's supposed to be a wedding ring; I'm married to this for life," said DiLorenzo, displaying the simple broad band on his hand.

"But does this mean if I become abusive to my wife, the diocese, that I should stay? After they try to remedy the situation ... if they can't, if I'm overly abusive, then I can be removed."

The oversight of Catholic clergy also extends to bishops. Every five years, DiLorenzo and his department heads must prepare reports about aspects of religious, statistical and financial matters. Various Vatican departments review the reports and return them with comments. And the bishop may very well find himself required to respond with remedies required by headquarters.

DiLorenzo said: "I have lived through three generations of social science reflection on the pedophilia question. I understand they are developing some indices to be more explicit to look for this. But does it show up in regular psychological testing? I don't think so."

Before the 1970s, "in terms of therapy, there were only guesses about how to address the issue. When churches discovered it, they would be like families who discovered it; they simply hoped it would all go away, it was so terrible."

By the 1980s, "professionals can talk about it with more conviction about what they think may be the cause and what are the success rates of therapy.

"Right now we have to wait and hear from the social scientists, realistically, if someone has this propensity, can you screen this out from the very beginning when a candidate presents itself? Is there an instrument that can help you screen out for this situation? If you can't do that, you are taking chances."

Diocese reports no abuse investigations

There are no sexual misconduct investigations against priests in the Honolulu diocese, according to spokesman Patrick Downes.

The diocesan Standing Committee on Sexual Misconduct -- two lawyers, two psychologists and three priests -- met last month to review past cases. They included four instances in which priests were removed from active ministry because of sexual abuse of a minor or the "danger of sexual misconduct." The most recent case was nine years ago, Downes said.

The local church does not count the March 2000 conviction of the Rev. Mark Matson, a former chaplain at Tripler Army Medical Center who never served in a local parish. A Circuit Court judge sentenced Matson to 20 years in prison on charges of third-degree sexual assault and first-degree attempted assault for an August 1998 incident with a 13-year-old boy at Maunalua Bay Beach Park.

The diocese and Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo were named in a lawsuit against a layman in a Honolulu parish who pleaded guilty to six counts of sexual assault against an altar boy. The diocese issued a statement last week that it bears no responsibility for the actions of Manuel Feliciano, who was sentenced to one year in prison and five years' probation for actions taken between 1993 and 1995 while he was a sacristan at Sts. Peter & Paul Church.

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