On the afternoon of Friday 17th of August 2018, 100 congregants of the Diocese of Harrisburg, local clergymen, and women, as well as a few nuns, gathered at the St. Patrick’s Cathedral for a mass cum extended plea for forgiveness; after a grand jury released an extended report on Tuesday detailing the atrocities committed by the Catholic Church. The report contains decades of widespread and shocking sexual abuse by members of clergymen against children and minors.
Many of the church members opined that their trust in the Church might have been damaged; however, their faith in God and the Catholic doctrines and teachings remain at large. “Now do I think what the priests did was horrific? Yes, I do,” Antonia Stepanic, aged 74 and a Harrisburg resident said, as she walked to her car. “Do I think the hierarchy covering it up was wrong? Yes, I do. Did it shake my faith? No, it did not. Not one iota. I still have faith in God. I still have faith in Catholicism.
Emily Wuez echoed the sentiment of Antonia by claiming that her faith is independent of individuals that are members of the Church but on the teachings of the Catholic faith itself. “The people of the church are messed up,” she said. “It’s not the church’s teachings.”
Out of the total 301 named priest in the grand jury report, 45 of them are a former priest of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Harrisburg. With 15 counties, 89 parishes, two basilicas, and St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the Diocese of Harrisburg is one of the significant flashpoints of this sexual scandal.
The grand jury report states that the priest was complicit in offenses that range from sexual grooming, rape, inappropriate touching, and sexual abuse – it also notes that bishops and administrators worked to cover it up.
When interviewed Father Chester Snyder, 66, after he has provided a rite of confession to those that attended the Friday mass, he said Catholics should “demand nothing less than humility and transparency and holiness” in the wake of the sexual abuse scandal with more victims still coming forward. He talks further:
“I learned a long time ago that priests aren’t perfect, but most of the time their imperfections are manifested by insensitivity, eccentricity or silliness,” said Snyder, who was ordained a priest in the diocese in 1977. “We’re on a whole different level here. What we’re talking about is not an imperfection. What we’re talking about is a sin. What we’re talking about are crimes. And to put those crimes in the same sentence as the word ‘priest’ creates natural tension and dissonance in the hearts of Catholics — mine, too.”
On Friday, Bishop Ronald Gainer started homily by quoting from the grand jury report and especially the section that said “much had changed in the past 15 years” about how the Church treated allegations of sexual abuse. He then went ahead to call for a yearlong effort of repentance, healing support and gain back the trust of the diocese. In addition to days of fasting, officials of the Church said.
Gainer said some of the victims had reached out after the Church published the priest’s name to begin healing. “They feel confirmed and believed,” he said. After the mass, the diocese had five hours of quiet adoration and another service of repentance anchored by Bishop Gainer.