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Long Island Catholics looking for answers after latest sex scandals

The Catholic Church sex abuse scandal is roiling the faithful across Long Island.

New allegations of sexual abuse of children by Catholic clergy have surfaced since June and sparked criticism of Pope Francis for his initial response to one of the scandals as well as accusations he helped keep the behavior secret. And earlier this month, a Philadelphia grand jury report detailed decades of sexual abuse of children by priests.

“Just when you think it is safe to go back in the pews, something else comes up,” said Frank McQuade, a former priest who is a parishioner at St. Mary of the Isle in Long Beach.

The steady flow of accusations has left McQuade and others among Long Island’s 1.5 million Catholics wondering what will come next and demanding more than just prayers to address the scandals.

“It’s a real call to arms for a lot of Catholics,” McQuade said. “As a Catholic, it looks like there is a lot of work we have to do individually and as a church. I think we have to get back to fundamental values.”

The scandal's effects have been felt in both the pews and pulpits of Long Island's Catholic churches.

Bishop John Barres of the Diocese of Rockville Centre has sought to calm a restless and angry flock. He has written public messages to the faithful, preached at Masses, and taped a 30-minute special program on the subject that aired Sunday night on the Catholic cable television station “Telecare.”

The program’s host, Msgr. James Vlaun, summed up the torrent of news, saying, “We seem to have ripped open our hearts as a church.”

On Sunday, a former Vatican ambassador released an 11-page letter accusing Pope Francis of failing to act on allegations that an American cardinal sexually abused young priests and seminarians for decades while church officials did nothing.

The letter by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò followed the release earlier this month of a grand jury report in Pennsylvania detailing allegations that at least 1,000 children were abused by 300 priests over seven decades. Viganò called on the pope to step down.

The pope also has been buffeted by criticism since early June of his handling of a clergy sex abuse scandal in Chile — allegations he initially dismissed before summoning Chile’s bishops to Rome and accepting the resignations of several.

Some Long Island Catholics said they were sticking by the pope. They said the allegations are politically motivated by conservatives looking to dethrone Francis. 

Others said they supported Viganò’s demand that Francis stepped down.

“I think under these circumstances, Pope Francis should give serious consideration to resigning,” said John Picciano, a longtime parishioner at St. Kilian’s in Farmingdale. “Accountability starts at the top.”

Richard Koubek, a parishioner at Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal in Wyandanch, said he thought Viganò’s allegations were “unsubstantiated.”

“Since the Chilean scandal, Francis has been resolute on the issue of sex abuse,” Koubek said.

Koubek said the pope should “reinstitute the Vatican commission studying sex abuse and pursue a panel to investigate bishops who are accused of covering up.”

For Thomas G. Lederer, who earned his master's degree in theology from the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception in Lloyd Harbor, he'll wait for all the facts to come out before passing judgment.

“Whether someone is a pope or a pauper, they deserve due process before being condemned,” he said.

Jamie Manson, a Long Beach resident and columnist for The National Catholic Reporter, said she saw first-hand the toll the sex abuse scandal is taking on the church and on Francis during a trip to Ireland last week to cover the pope’s visit.

“Every person I spoke to had either had their faith shaken to the core or have abandoned the church altogether,” Manson said. “I saw antagonism towards the church expressed in ways we would never see in the U.S. There were rallies of survivors of sex abuse, and even public art installations calling Francis to accountability.”

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