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Bishop urges Catholics to fight back
when media go too far on scandal

By Elaine Spencer
Catholic News Service


After months of negative publicity, it is time for Catholics to fight back against distorted media portrayals of a scandal-ridden church, Bishop Daniel R. Jenky of Peoria told diocesan priests at a gathering Sept. 18.

Speaking at the conclusion of the annual Priests Assembly Day in Peoria, Bishop Jenky said the time had come for Catholics to be more "militant" in calling attention to the good the church does and the many faithful priests, religious, and lay people who serve it.

He voiced strong objections to the way he and his predecessor in Peoria -- Archbishop John J. Myers, now of Newark, N.J. -- have been portrayed in the secular media regarding their handling of clergy sex abuse cases, and assured the priests of the diocese of his prayer and concern for them. Since late spring, eight priests of the Peoria Diocese have been asked to step down from public ministry after allegations of sexual abuse that were deemed credible.

The annual daylong educational gathering drew 135 priests and was primarily devoted to the topic of spiritual direction.

In his remarks, Bishop Jenky said that when news of clergy sex abuse scandals nationally and locally came to light earlier this year "we needed to say we were sorry." Although the incidence of sex abuse among Catholic clergy is no greater than it is among other professions or clergy of other denominations, he said, "one case is too many."

But now, he added, legitimate attention to the harm caused by clergy sex abuse seems to have swelled into a constant barrage of ridicule and suspicion against the Catholic Church, both in news and entertainment media.

"I worry that Jay Leno and David Letterman," who frequently joke about pedophile priests on their late-night TV shows, "are not just making fun of our problems but moving into attacking our faith," he said.

"We need to be more outspoken in defending the faith," Bishop Jenky said, adding that the laity should be encouraged to speak up for the church and the good it does.

Bishop Jenky also disputed a story carried on the front page of that day's Chicago Tribune, and widely publicized in other media, implying that Archbishop Myers was dropped from the U.S. bishops' Ad Hoc Committee on Sexual Abuse because of questions about his handling of such cases during his more than 11 years as bishop of Peoria.

"I got a little angry reading that story," he said. "It is not true."

Bishop Jenky reiterated that to the best of his knowledge only one of the eight cases in which he has removed priests from ministry involved allegations that Archbishop Myers did not resolve before he left the diocese last fall. Any notion that Archbishop Myers was negligent in handling such cases is not warranted by the facts, he added.

He said Archbishop Myers had actually stepped down from the committee to make room for an Eastern-rite bishop.

The dioceses of the Eastern Catholic churches are also covered by the bishops' charter to protect children. The archbishop who replaced Archbishop Myers is the only Eastern-rite member of the committee: Archbishop Stefan Soroka of the Ukrainian Archdiocese of Philadelphia, who is representing Region 3 -- Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

The Chicago Tribune's story was headlined "3 bishops dumped off panel on sex abuse. All faced criticism for their handling of priest cases." A shorter Associated Press story based mainly on the Tribune report was carried later on U.S. newspaper Web sites.

In a letter to the paper, Archbishop Harry J. Flynn of St. Paul-Minneapolis, the committee chairman, said the media reports were wrong.

The restructuring of the committee was announced Sept. 6. The three former members not on the new committee list were Archbishop Myers, Bishop John B. McCormack of Manchester, N.H., and Auxiliary Bishop A. James Quinn of Cleveland.

At their national meeting in Dallas in June, the bishops mandated a restructuring of the committee to make it larger, with a new membership comprised of a representative from each of the 14 geographical regions of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Bishop Jenky also told his priests he was grateful for the privilege of opening the sainthood process for a native son and former Peoria diocesan priest, Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen. On Sept. 9, the diocese petitioned the Vatican to open the sainthood cause of the famed author, speaker, and TV personality who was born in El Paso, in the Peoria Diocese.

"It will be a wonderful thing to have a priest of our diocese raised to the altars of the church," he said. "Let us pray that it happens."

Bishop Jenky added that Archbishop Sheen kept on the cutting edge of media in the early days of radio and television and "did it all while he lived a daily life of prayer."