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Catholics say communication is key to dealing with sex scandal

March 28, 2002|BY TARA REILLY

As accusations of sexual misconduct continue to shake the Roman Catholic Church, Tri-State area Catholic leaders say the best way to deal with the scandal and rebuild trust in the Church is to discuss the situation openly.

"We need to talk about it," said the Rev. Joseph Cosgrove of Saint Peter's Catholic Church in Hancock. "The last thing you want to do is not talk about it and sweep it under the rug."

The Catholic Church has been under scrutiny since January, when child molestation allegations surfaced against Boston-area priest John Geoghan. He's accused of molesting 130 children.

The Boston Archdiocese has agreed to pay up to $45 million to his alleged victims.

Cosgrove, who was born in Boston, said he's "saddened" by the recent events.

Shortly after the Boston scandal, dozens of similar allegations involving Catholic priests have been made across the country.

The Catholic Church is accused of covering up additional child molestation incidents over the years.

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The Altoona-Johnstown Diocese, which includes St. Stephen Catholic Church in McConnellsburg, Pa., has a policy that investigates all allegations against members of the clergy right away, said Sister Mary Parks, secretary for the diocese's communications office.

St. Stephen church referred all calls to the diocese.

Depending on the results of an investigation, an accused individual may be put on administrative leave from pastoral responsibilities and possibly removed from the priesthood if a more extensive evaluation turns up any wrongdoing.

"Beyond our own internal inquiry, we recognize that sexual misconduct can be criminal in nature and would cooperate fully with the public authorities in such cases," Bishop Joseph V. Adamec said in a March statement.

Sister Parks said the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese was open with the public about sex abuse allegations brought against one of its priests. In 1994, Francis Luddy admitted in a Blair County courtroom that he had molested young parishioners.

Sister Parks said the bishop suspended two other priests from active ministry between 1987 and 1990 after similar allegations were made.

"People need to be aware that we are doing, have done and will continue to do everything we can to make sure every child is safe," Sister Parks said. "The people are concerned about these issues. They need to be reassured."

Cosgrove said parishioners of Saint Peter's, which is the place of worship for 209 families, have come to him with concerns about the national sex abuse scandal, and Cosgrove has also mentioned it during his sermons. He said he plans to set up a meeting soon after Easter to give parishioners a chance to further discuss the scandal with him.

"I just want to give them a chance to explain what they're feeling," Cosgrove said.

So far the parishioners have been supportive of the Catholic Church, he said.

"They're very strong here," Cosgrove said. "People understand that we have such a wonderful faith."

Priests at a number of other Catholic churches in the Tri-State area were unavailable to comment or did not return phone calls.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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