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Local priests candidly discuss controversy

April 28, 2002|By DARREN SIMON, Staff Writer
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With the Roman Catholic Church rocked by sex scandals in the United States and with church leaders looking to resolve the dilemma, local priests spoke out on the issue.

Priests leading local churches throughout the Imperial Valley spoke candidly about the controversy. Each of those interviewed said the church must face the controversy and is attempting to do so.

They said it is not an issue the church is attempting to hide from and in the end the church will rise stronger from the controversy.

The Rev. Cecilio Moraga

St. Joseph's Church

in Holtville

Moraga said it is good that abuses are coming to light so there can be justice for victims.

He also said he hopes people realize it is a minority of priests who have committed such offenses, There are 47,000 Catholic clergy in the United States.

"We are talking about a very small minority," he said of any such offenders.

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Moraga said from his standpoint if a priest has committed an offense and is "notorious," that priest should not be assigned a church.

However, Moraga added, "In our church and even in Christianity there is a level of forgiveness," Moraga said, adding Jesus Christ taught lessons of forgiveness.

He said if a priest committed an offense, for example, 20 years ago, has not done so since and is repentant, there should be some compassion shown to that priest.

Still, Moraga said there is a problem that must be addressed by the church.

"We don't bury our heads in the sand and say there isn't a problem," he said. "There is a problem and the church is facing it."

Asked by a reporter if changing church doctrines such as the policy of non-marriage for priests is an answer, Moraga said it is not if it is coming from human beings.

"If it is coming from the Holy Spirit then we should change, for example, the rule on celibacy," he said.

However, he said people are jumping to conclusions that marriage is an answer. He said people who are married sometimes commit infidelities.

Moraga said when one chooses a life in the priesthood the person is not denying himself love.

"Celibacy starts from love," he said. "It is a celebration of your love for Jesus Christ."

And yet, he said, priests are human beings and as humans temptation is possible, just as Jesus faced temptation. It is how one deals with that temptation that is important.

Of pedophilia, Moraga said any immoral, and illegal activity is wrong whether committed by a priest or anyone else in society.

He said if a priest is a serial pedophile that priest needs to be removed from any situation where the priest has contact with children.

However, if a priest has committed such a crime only once in his life and has been treated through counseling, that priest should have a chance to continue to perform duties at the discretion of the diocese, he said.

Moraga added he thinks through the controversy and discussions there will be a new policy created by the church that would give individual diocese national guidelines to follow for dealing with such issues.

Moraga said he thinks the future of the church is "very, very bright." He said that a problem is coming to light is a form of purification and will help build confidence.

Monsignor Thomas Vidra

St. Mary's Church

in El Centro

Vidra said the church is working to find a resolution to what he called a crisis, but he said people need to understand it is going to take time.

"The resolution cannot be done instantly," he said, adding it is going to take patience just as when attempting to treat any person with an addiction.

He said the type of behavior some priests around the nation have been accused of — particularly pedophilia — is an addiction and the church is going to have to deal with it.

Vidra said, "you condemn the sin, not the sinner, or the transgression, not the transgressor."

Vidra said he is hopeful guidelines will be established for addressing the crisis. He called the issue a crisis because there have been accusations against priests coast to coast.

"What do we do to try to resolve this crisis in the Catholic Church?" he asked rhetorically.

Vidra said he would recommend the church have a system to review priests facing allegations of wrongdoing.

If a priest is not willing to submit to the review that priest should be removed from his duties because the priest is not showing good faith.

If the allegations are found to be supported, that priest should be removed from duties and directed to counseling.

He said that is a form of zero tolerance.

Only after the priest has faced the due process of law, and church law, and undergone counseling should he have a chance to return to church duties.

However, it would be up to a counselor to recommend when such a priest could return to active ministry. Also, Vidra said, such a return would have to be at the discretion of the diocese, including its bishop and personnel board.

Even at that point the ministry a priest returns to has to be considered through the discretion of the diocese to ensure such a priest can fulfill his "call to ministry."

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