When a priest is accused, the parish suffers too

When a priest is accused of sexually abusing a minor, the parish community inevitably becomes a victim.

The natural instinct of parishioners is to defend their spiritual guide,  and rally for his return.

No such outcome will occur at St. Leo Catholic Church in the Little Italy section of Baltimore, since it was announced this week that the pastor who was removed from his post more than a year ago because of a sexual abuse accusation reportedly has admitted to the offense.

The story about Pallottine Father Michael Salerno is on the Web site of The Catholic Review, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, as well as one of the local daily newspapers, The Sun.

I covered this story when I was a reporter at the Review, and remember the gasps from parishioners when they were told about the accusation and Father Mike’s removal. They voiced their anger about the person who made the accusation and pleaded to have their beloved pastor returned to service.

In the weeks and months that followed, parishioners who lived in the Little Italy neighborhood posted signs in their windows in support of Father Mike, and several even held a rally to protest his removal.

Not only was Father Mike a popular pastor, he was a successful one too, taking the reins of a struggling city parish in 1997 with only about 100 families and grew it to more than 800 families by 2007.

Those parishioners were suffering after Father Mike was removed, just as I’m sure they are suffering now with this latest announcement.

2 Responses

  1. The headline for this article seems to imply that it is the accuser’s fault that the parish community suffers, and I do not believe that this is true. The root cause of the suffering is the acts of abuse by the priest. First his victim or victims suffer, then the accuser suffers from the anger of the well intentioned members of the parish, and then those that were deluded by the abuser have to suffer the humility of being wrong. And finally the entire Mystical body suffers from the abuser’s act.

    I think we have to be careful not to condemn the messenger for the news he brings.

    That being said, I have great sympathy for the parish community who has been hurt twice. But let us make sure that we recognize that this hurt is the wage of sin, not of the messenger.

    Mike L

  2. I agree that we do not want to, in any way, hurt the already victimized, but I disagree that the headline implies that it is the accuser’s fault that the parish suffers.

    Beyond that, I believe that the article illustrates, if it doesn’t specifically spell it out, that once a priest is accused it places the parish in a terrible position. Those that stood by and supported their priest now feel like fools for doing so, feel betrayed and will be understandably cynical and jaded on this issue in the future. They have the added sin of hurting the accused in their actions of support of the priest and now have to make amends to the accuser and the family and supporters.

    So, just in case a priest thinks he is only hurting one child at a time, indeed, he is hurting all of the parish as well, and by not admitting it right away, continued to injure the child.

    I’m very thankful the admission finally came though. To that, I give him credit.

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