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Local Catholics offer thoughts on a faith at the crossroads

VIEWPOINTS •ÊSaddened, angry and frustrated, members of the Portland flock share ideas on coping with their church's crisis and make calls for change and understanding

The Tribune asked local members of the Roman Catholic Church the following questions:

• 'What is your personal feeling about recent developments within the Catholic Church?'

• 'What steps should be taken by the church?'

Their responses:

Dennis Keenan

'There seems to be a growing consensus that firm action has to be taken. I think a lot of the bishops are hearing concerns of members of their various dioceses. There is the notion that everyone has redemption available to them; whether or not they continue to serve is a different matter. There is a pretty strong consensus that people not be put at risk.

'This was an extraordinary meeting. It's possible they hadn't totally thought through how to present it to the media. We tend to want instant results. At least locally, the archbishop has been very clear in his response. Hopefully, we'll be able to pool the best resources that are available, to learn from other dioceses around the country that have been exemplary in their response. The bishops have a consistent history of pulling in a lot of different, helpful resources, including the laity. My expectation is that they will do the same in this situation. It could be a relatively rapid response to the crisis.'

Keenan, 55, is executive director of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Portland.

Pat Van Der Werf

'I'm very sad and angry and betrayed. I was baptized Catholic, and I've chosen to baptize my children as Catholics. It has been a way of life for me.

'The hush-hush and the cover-up was the worst thing that the hierarchy could do. The accused need to be tried, and they need to be punished. Preying on children is the worst kind of sin possible.

'The Catholic church needs to establish a no-tolerance policy, period. Priests could serve their parishioners in a much stronger way if they were allowed to marry. I had a friend who left the priesthood. He was lonely. He wanted a family. I don't think it's going to happen anytime soon, probably not in my lifetime.'

Van Der Werf, 49, co-owns and operates Wee Works, a Hollywood day-care center serving 45 children.

Bobby Berstler

'They want to put the blame somewhere, but where they're trying to put the blame is not the cause. Sometimes you get an older clergy. They're from the old school. Their thinking might not be as liberal as they should be. They try to put the blame on gays. A gay person does not do things like this.

'Being gay is not a sin. A lot of priests are gay.

'It's a mental problem that these people have. I've talked to psychologists who say these people can be found through testing. I agree that the bishops should immediately turn them over to the law. The only way to fix it is to put them through a good psychiatric process before they're ordained.

'I hope a reasonable response comes out of it. The diocese is responding very well. I think your local areas are doing fine. Individual churches, not the Vatican itself.'

Berstler, 54, participates in the Gay and Lesbian Fellowship at St. Philip Neri Church, in Southeast Portland.

Sean Pritchard

'I really believe that it's hurt the church. It's put me in a position to think, 'What are these bastards doing?' My mother was a very structured Irish Catholic. Whatever the church said, you did. Back in the '50s and '60s, priests were gods. What they said was right. É It's nasty. These are pedophiles. I really believe that if the contributions weren't going down, the church would have taken a less direct approach.

'They weren't going to resolve that over the weekend. I believe time is the healer of all things. I don't know what approach the church would take to try and get a better image. Will they break the sacrament to let the priests get married?'

Sean Pritchard, 49, is a Portland police officer and New York City native.

Dan Evans

'In some ways, it's sensationalism. There are great people who are dedicated priests and teachers, but this news has gone out and there are a lot of priests now whom everybody's giving the side look.

'I had experiences with priests who were predator types. My own mother told me, 'Stay away from this guy. Don't stay late after choir practice.' But the majority of the people weren't. I'd say it was one out of 100 contacts.

'It's terrible when people are victimized. There's always that potential.'

'The Catholic Church got me out of the South Side of Chicago and got me to be a teacher, and it never would've been if not for a lot of very positive people.

'They have to say one strike, you're out. If somebody gets involved with this kind of stuff, they get moved out. They shouldn't be involved with kids. I think it's sad that the Catholic Church did not just slam it down. They're working from a perspective of 200 years ago.'

Evans, 52, teaches at Da Vinci Middle School, in Southeast Portland, and is a Chicago native.

Sister Barbara Kennedy

'Frustration, anger, some disappointment, when we betray a public trust, and it's really more than a public trust, it's a spiritual trust. We're voicing what our primary commitment is, and that is to protect people who can't protect themselves. That is our mission.

'I am hopeful. We do need to see some very concrete guidelines. I think there has to be zero tolerance. I'm particularly confident that our archbishop (John G. Vlazny of Portland) will see to that. I think he's handling it honestly, directly and certainly with the humility with which we need to address this right now.'

Sister Kennedy, 58, directs the Northeast Catholic Counseling Center.

Casey White

'I'm in a little bit of shock, a little bit of not-so-shocked. I've lost a lot of faith in the Catholic Church over the last few years. I think the church needs to take a look at what the heart of its values are, if their beliefs are really in sync with what God wants. Times do change. These old beliefs are really hurting the Catholic Church, because the church has a tendency to keep things quiet. They don't like to talk about it.

'I think the 'one strike, you're out' thing should apply to everyone. Why should it be any different for a priest?'

White, 21, is editor in chief of The Beacon, the student newspaper at the University of Portland.

Jim Steinman

'My gut feeling, the part that really bothers me, is that I don't feel enough attention has been given to the people who've been victimized. This has been going on a long time. (The outcome of the Vatican meeting) was a predictable conclusion. The disappointment is that I thought the dialogue about sexuality would be a little more open.

'They're not going to abandon celibacy, but I'd like to see the whole process of screening and training of priests be opened up. I don't know how it would be facilitated. Priests move around periodically. They throw a priest into your parish; they arrive and they're cloaked in their robes and their lifestyle. No one is ever brought up to question priests. If families are going to trust those men, they have a right to know. It's a public relations exercise, but people want to feel safe sending their kids to their priests.'

Steinman, 34, is a software sales representative, a Southern California native and one of 10 children from a strongly Catholic family.

Louis Wolfe

'It's been a long time overdue to be dealt with, not only by the church but by the rest of the people in the world. It's a much bigger problem than what we have in the church.

'We have been dealing with this openly in our parish. We have been dealing with it in the homilies here for the last couple months. I think we're owning up to our errors. The price we've paid is very high. We're an icon in the world. I hope the rest of the world will benefit from this experience.

'I don't think the world needs to tell us about it now. It's time to seek the guidance of our lord, Jesus Christ. This has to be prayerful. It has to be a meeting of many, many minds. I don't think lawsuits are necessarily the answer. Money won't heal it. We need to follow what our lord says and forgive each other.'

Wolfe, 55, is a registered nurse from Happy Valley and a member of St. Philip Neri Church.