Chicago's Catholics Speak Out On Abuse Scandal

Chicago's Holy Name Cathedral is the seat of the country's third largest diocese with 2.3 million Catholics. One parishioner says anyone involved in the sex abuse scandals should be held responsible. Others say many Catholics are staying away from the church because of the scandals.

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(Soundbite of church bells)

CHERYL CORLEY: I'm Cheryl Corley in Chicago.

Church bells ring at Chicago's Holy Name Cathedral, the seat of the country's third largest diocese with 2.3 million Catholics. An evening Mass is about to begin. Standing outside the cathedral's heavy bond doors, Gloria Allen(ph) says anyone involved in the sex abuse scandals should be held responsible.

Ms. GLORIA ALLEN: But I think it's very difficult to go back 20 and 30 years and decide who's accountable. I mean, I think we have to be certain of the individuals we're accusing.

Mr. RICH BENONEN(ph): What I've been doing is saying a lot of prayers.

CORLEY: Rich Benonen says many Catholics are staying away from the church because of the scandals.

Mr. BENONEN: They're like up at arms with this whole thing, with the priests and these children.

CORLEY: Standing nearby on the steps of the church with her young daughter, Cathleen Long says she has empathy for victims, but understands the quandary bishops may have faced long ago if sex abuse allegations were raised against a priest.

Ms. CATHLEEN LONG: They didn't know what to do with people like this. And people still, with family members like this, don't know what to do. Do you turn them in? The church was a family.

CORLEY: Victims allege that even Pope Benedict, when he was a cardinal, didn't take action against a Milwaukee priest, a charge church leaders call unfair.

(Soundbite of choir singing)

CORLEY: An evening Mass at Loyola University's chapel on Chicago's north side, draws students and others. Outside the church, 20-year-old Maria Smith says she's concerned about calls for the pope to step down.

Ms. MARIA SMITH: It's a big deal to make a pope resign or have it like, to say that he should resign. And if he did do, you know, something like that, you know, it should be deeply investigated.

CORLEY: Student Mike Ciap(ph) says Catholics may have questions about leadership, but asking for the Pope to resign?

Mr. MIKE CIAP: That's a bit strong, yeah. I mean I definitely don't think that things should be swept under the rug. At the same time, I hope this doesn't turn into another Salem witch hunt.

CORLEY: As she left the service, Sister Mary Christine Athans, a professor of church history, says this latest news about abuse by priests in the U.S. and in Europe saddens her, but must be put in perspective.

Ms. MARY CHRISTINE ATHANS (Professor of Church History, Loyola University): We have had far more horrendous times in the history of the church, not just the renaissance, but other times as well, where the papacy was, you know, in really corrupt state. So to suggest that this is equivalent to some of those situations is way out of proportion.

CORLEY: Even so, Athans says what these latest cases point out is that there's still a need for openness and clarity in how the Catholic Church handles priest sex abuse allegations.

Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Chicago.

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