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Church sex abuse scandal brings reflection at L.A. congregations

February 3, 2013 |  4:13 pm

Outside the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels

New revelations about the church abuse scandal made for a reflective and painful Sunday at Catholic parishes across Southern California.

Pastors and parishioners discussed the molestation scandal, which was brought back to the forefront with the release of church records showing how Los Angeles Archdiocese leaders handled the scandal.

At the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels downtown, Msgr. Kevin Kostelnik asked parishioners Sunday “to pray fervently” for the victims of the clergy child abuse scandal and lamented that “these are tough days.”

Like other church leaders, Kostelnik read a Jan. 31 letter from Archbishop Jose Gomez about tens of thousands of pages of previously secret personnel files posted on the church’s website last week of 122 priests accused of molesting children. Some of the files lay out in Cardinal Roger M. Mahony and Bishop Thomas J. Curry’s own words how the church hierarchy plotted to keep law enforcement from learning that children had been molested at the hands of priests.

“The behavior described in these files is terribly sad and evil,” Gomez wrote in the letter. “There is no excuse, no explaining away what happened to these children.” 

After reading the letter, Kostelnik urged parishioners to continue to reflect on the archbishop’s words and to pray for the victims.

Kostelnik noted that the church and its congregation have become weary of the intense media coverage since the church files were released.

"Media have been camped on all three streets" around the church for days, Kostelnik said after a scripture reading, describing for congregants a difficult week. Parishioners have been "searching for a way out [of the church] without having a microphone shoved in their face."

"I'm usually a very optimistic person," he said. "But these are tough days. These are tough days."

Kostelnik told parishioners the church has worked to move forward. Employees undergo background checks and extensive training, he said.

There were similar reflections elsewhere.

“We have been reminded about sin in our church.... The important thing for us to remember is that there are victims in this,” said Msgr. Robert J. Gallagher of St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church in North Hollywood. Gallagher thanked the roughly 100 parishioners for their prayers in what he called one of the darkest periods in his 40 years with the church.

St. Borromeo is the home of Mahony, who is at the center of the controversy. Mahony was not present during the 7:30 a.m. service.

After the service, Gallagher said he was pleased that Mahony had met with more than 90 child sex abuse victims to ask for forgiveness for himself and the church. He said he recently had dinner with Mahony, who told him that he was meeting with another victim Monday.

In a church bulletin, Gallagher wrote a letter to parishioners expanding on his feelings about the child abuse scandal: “The real victims are those who were robbed of their childhood, whether by a priest or some other trusted adult. They are the ones who deserve our prayers, our apologies, and any other gesture that will invite them to be restored to the conviction of God’s love for them."  

Eric Nielsen, 52, a parishioner at the church since 1981, said after Sunday services that "this will probably be my last time coming here" because he was unsettled by the child abuse scandal.

"I take my hat off to the archbishop,” Nielsen said. “He got on the ball and did what needed to be done.”

"It's a shame," he added.

At Holy Family Church in South Pasadena, Msgr. Clement Connolly told parishioners: “This is a terrible day, but this is a good day. We are standing, finally, in a place of truth."

A decade earlier, Connolly said, he stood before his congregation and begged for the truth. He feared "institutional malignancy," he said.

"Any malignancy that is not addressed becomes invasive, becomes the norm," he said. "It shapes the culture of the church. It shapes decision-making."

A standing-room-only crowd that spilled into the nave applauded as Connolly finished his homily. The services at 8 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. focused on finding faith and grace in everyday life.

"There really aren't words," said Jennifer Rockenback of Los Angeles. She had arrived with her husband and two children, hoping Connolly could make sense of what she called "a terrible, terrible thing."


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-- Matt Stevens, Laura J. Nelson and Hailey Branson-Potts

Photo: Parishioners leave noon Mass at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels on Friday, a day after Archbishop Jose Gomez released thousands of pages of personnel files about abusive priests. Credit: Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles Times