FLORENCE – Former University of South Carolina president John M. Palms, Ph.D., spoke at St. Anthony Church recently, to discuss the sexual abuse scandal in the priesthood.
Palms said that the church has dealt with the issues of nuclear weapons, abortion, cloning, human sexuality, information management, privacy and other matters, and it will deal with the sexual abuse issue also.
“We have to have hope, and hope means that in the end, we know that this is going to be resolved, and the church is going to be a better place because of it,” Palms said. “We’re not separated from the rest of the world in which we live. This is not just the Catholic priests’ problem. Those of us who are active in leadership roles in the secular world know that it is a cultural problem in the world today.”
“Don’t believe everything you read,” he said. “It’s difficult to get vital information … There are those who feel like we are holding all the information back, and those who feel like we are giving too much… You have got to do what’s right for the victim and what’s right for the accused.”
There was discussion on the topics of priests being able to marry and of nuns being ordained.
“I’m not sure many of our bishops are pro-pope,” one audience member said. “This pope is a hero. We have to do what he says. It’s an authoritarian church. There’s no democracy.”
Palms talked about the tradition the church uses to arrive at the truth and urged people to respect that process.
“There’s got to be a theology that addresses what can be talked about. I think lay people can participate in that process. Then you come to a final conclusion. You’ve got this tension that’s built up when people can’t talk about it.”
Palms said the bishop has an advisory committee with both lay and canon lawyers who advise him on actions he should be taking on “a case-by-case basis.”
“This national board is doing an audit on all the archdioceses to see that the procedures and processes that they recommended at their meeting in Dallas are actually being implemented. They have to be implemented by December. There’s another study coming out of that. There’s a young lady who formerly worked for the FBI who is looking at the data.”
There was discussion about dissident groups of clergy and about how academia and the secular life affect outreach.
“How can you go to confession when you don’t have trust in your priests?” Palms asked.
Even those bishops who did not come forth earlier are “highly respected by their parishes for the good work they have done,” said Palms.
“The U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops is meeting this week again,” said Palms. “These findings will result in probably some more changes in the hierarchy of the church.
“There’s an awful lot that has to be done before the laity is going to be convinced that they are going in the right direction, but some of these other problems are going to be with us for a long time. The world is just that way.”
One audience member complained that input is coming from John Hopkins University.
“Their advisors are from a group at Johns Hopkins University that has written extensively about positions … opposed to the Catholic position,” the man said.
Palms responded, “As I said, you have to familiarize yourself with how the church through the centuries has arrived at truth with that kind of certification. Just because somebody is advising … doesn’t necessarily mean that will be the end of the discussion.”
One female audience member wanted to know what to do to defend the faith.
“It’s almost embarrassing because you don’t want to give approval with silent dissent,” she said.
“The church has been vulnerable, and it is in the crosshairs of a lot of people,” said Palms. “It’s a good target. Over the generations it has declared itself the one and only true church, and now it is hurt. It’s in crisis, and people are jumping on that bandwagon. That part of it you have to deal with also. People have to understand. I know what the headlines have been about this church, but there is not a church in the country that hasn’t had this problem, maybe not this extensively, but there isn’t an institution or a business or an organization. It’s just not as public as it is here. We’re just going to have to stomach it, not that we can deny that this is happening.”
After the discussion, Ben D’Souza, a parish member, said he thought the meeting went well.
“It was very informational,” he said. “My question was about the impact of the hierarchy and the negativism going around with the youth and how the youth are reacting to the pedophilia and how you remove those thoughts from the mind.”
“My question was what has happened to all the good priests who we knew in the 1950s and 1960s,” said Tom Dorsel of St. Anthony. “It just seemed like there were so many good ones back then. Just anecdotally it seems like the good ones left, the young seminarians I grew up with.
“They left the priesthood and went in another direction and got married, whatever it might be. Of course there are some simple answers to that. Maybe it’s the celibacy thing. But sometimes I wonder if it wasn’t something in the hierarchy of the church that drove them out.
“If the good ones left, it’s kind of like natural selection. The weak ones are left, and if the weak ones are left, that’s not very good to build a church on. And furthermore, if numbers are small, the bishops have to cater to them… They couldn’t afford to say, ‘You’re not going to do that — out of here,’ because they couldn’t run the church without them. All the good ones are already gone.”
Anna Jakuceit, a parish member, thought the meeting was “good.”
“It didn’t answer all my questions, but I don’t think it’s an easy thing, after all,” she said. “It’s so complicated.”
Margaret Outlaw, another parishioner at St. Anthony’s said she felt unsure.
“Maybe a lot will come from it because the laymen really do need to approach the matter and do their part too,” she said. “We’ve got to remind ourselves that God is with us, and God is in control. Everything’s going to be all right. He promised to be with the church for always.”