Catholic Students Association, Sheil Catholic Center grapple with national sex abuse scandal


Noah Frick-Alofs/Daily Senior Staffer

Sheil Catholic Center, 2110 Sheridan Rd. Leaders of the center have discussed the news of sex abuse scandals in the Catholic Church with the congregation.

Sneha Dey, Reporter

In August, Monica Juarez received an email from the leader of the Catholic Student Association, what usually would’ve been an outline of the group’s plans for the upcoming year. Instead, the email addressed reports of sex abuse scandals in the Catholic Church.

“As the leaders of the Catholic community on campus, we may (read: will) be the recipients of anger, disdain, and vitriol from those who lump us in with the news reports of scandal within the Church,” Medill junior Christian Surtz wrote to the board. “We represent the Church to many, in ways both fair and unfair. But, that said, this situation provides a tremendous opportunity – and a tremendous responsibility.”

In late July, former Washington, D.C. Cardinal Theodore McCarrick resigned after being accused of sexually abusing seminarians. Soon after McCarrick’s resignation, the attorney general of Pennsylvania released a massive grand jury report about sexual abuse in the Catholic Church from six dioceses in the state.

The grand jury found over 1,000 children were victims of abuse at the hands of priests over a seven decade period.

The revelations of abuse by priests of the Church and allegations that bishops and other high-ranking church officials in the state covered up the abuse prompted renewed anger from the public. Juarez said seeing the number of sex abuse victims elicited feelings of shock, sadness and disappointment.

“It affected me so much, I was crying,” the Weinberg junior said.

But at a time when many Catholics are questioning their faith and calling for reform, Juarez — the secretary of the Catholic students association — and others on campus are hoping to help students cope with the crisis and reinstill their faith in the Church.

Surtz, a former Daily staffer and president of the Catholic Students Association, said the group plans to address the crisis at an event for freshmen this Thursday. He said the association is currently discussing what a more formal response to the larger community will look like.

Juarez said open dialogue is important. She added the association wants to hold a prayer service outside Sheil Catholic Center, and that resources will be made available at Sheil for all students, regardless of religious identity.

“Ignoring it would be idiotic,” she said. “With the sex abuse scandal in the Church, part of the problem is that people weren’t talking, people were ignoring things that should have been reported. We want to be part of the solution.”

At least ten states have opened investigations into the Church, while Chile, Ireland and other countries are dealing with similar allegations. The Sheil Catholic Center will participate in the investigation of the Archdiocese of Chicago called for by the Illinois attorney general, but will not be directly involved, Sheil campus minister Tim Higgins said.

In his first public words to the Catholic community since the Pennsylvania grand jury report, Pope Francis largely failed to satisfy reformers, sticking only to a familiar expression of disgust at the sins of priests while ignoring calls to announce new measures.

“I cannot fail to acknowledge the grave scandal caused in Ireland by the abuse of young people by members of the church charged with responsibility for their protection and education,” Francis said during an August visit to Ireland. “The failure of ecclesiastical authorities — bishops, religious superiors, priests and others — adequately to address these repugnant crimes has rightly given rise to outrage, and remains a source of pain and shame for the Catholic community.”

Francis has since met with American bishops about the abuse, though a new Pew Research Center poll released Tuesday found that confidence in the pope’s handling of the issue has declined.

Chicago Archbishop Blase Cupich addressed the scandal in a letter to the public in mid-August. In the letter, he said the archdiocese will work to improve the complaint process as well as begin an investigation.

Higgins said Kevin Feeney, chaplain and director at Sheil, has brought up the crisis in conversations with his congregation.

“A lot of that hit over the summer,” Higgins said. “One evening, (Feeney) invited everyone and anyone to have an open discussion about this.”

A prayer for the victims and the Church as an institution has been held every mass since the news broke. As the school year begins, Higgins said Sheil is now planning to involve students in the dialogue and “to look into what people want to say about this issue.”

Juarez said she has watched family members consider leaving the Church entirely. Though Surtz said he has also witnessed peers have new doubts and new questions, he added his own faith in the Church has not wavered because he trusts the archdiocese is taking steps to prevent similar issues from recurring.

“People have talked about not being sure the Church is right for them,” Surtz said.“I can’t blame people for feeling that way… but I always say if you can’t see the Church, be the Church.”

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