By David Randall
Across the nation allegations of sexual misconduct have struck against Catholic clergy, causing some to question catholic practices, and drawing commentary from the Pope.
In Utah County however, it is life as usual, according to Rev. William Flegge of the Orem/Provo Parish, who says that faith is unshaken although he and others are saddened by the recent events.
“It”s a messy church, because that”s all humanity is, it”s messy,” Flegge said, “but the thing that is wonderful is that the Lord said that he would never desert us because of what somebody had done.”
Flegge said attendance is unchanged, and Palm Sunday, which is one of the biggest days of the year for Catholics, anticipating Easter, drew a congregation of more than 200 people to the St. Francis Parish, 500 N. 63 East in Orem.
Focus on the Roman Catholic Church and the sexual misconduct made major headlines with the revelation that a former priest John Geoghan, who had been moved from parish to parish in the Boston area, was sexually abusing church patrons.
Now 130 people have come forward saying that Geoghan abused them.
Since then the media pressure has intensified with the report that many more priests have been suspended and two were accused along with over 90 others in an Internet child pornography investigation.
A former major league baseball player has also come forward accusing a Michigan priest of abuse, and according to The New York Times, some states are considering a law that would make clergy subject to state registration.
The situation has also called down criticism about the church”s practices, such as the celibacy of priests.
“These are people with normal sex drives who cannot discharge them appropriately because they are afraid of adult women,” said Robert Miller, a University of Colorado expert on sex offenders in the New York Times.
“They are looking for intimacy, a kind of closeness they can”t get with adults. They develop an ongoing relationship with kids. They have the opportunity and the access.”
Flegge mentioned the scandal in the Palm Sunday mass saying, “my heart is almost pierced with what I see.”
In a separate interview, he said after reading one of the newspaper reports he wept for an hour.
He said while he understands the grievousness of the crimes of some of the priests, he thinks the situation has been blown out of proportion by the media, and similar problems can be found in all religions.
In defending celibacy, he cited a statement by the Bishop of the Utah Diocese, George H. Niederhauer.
Niederhauer said “easily 80 percent of sexual abuse of children happens in the family … if some small percentage of married men are involved in child abuse, does that mean marriage is the cause? The same is true of celibacy.”
Parishioner and convert of seven years to the Catholic Church Paul Walstad also defended celibacy by noting that sexual abuse is not only found among Catholic clergy.
“There has always been this attack on celibacy,” he said, “but this isn”t a celibacy issue, because if we look at the problems that occur with leader in other churches, most of those people are married.”
Instead, he said abuse is a signal that the world is going downhill, and shows how a bombardment of sexual themes can affect people.
“It doesn”t affect my faith at all,” Walstad said. “Your faith is not rooted in a leader.”
Flegge said he feels some of the media attention springs from prejudice and has gone beyond the bounds of being useful.
“I think there are a lot of people here that hate Catholic Church,” he said. “I have no evidence, but is seems to me there is more going on now than just helping us find a solution to the problem.”
He also defended the church”s actions in handling the cases of abuse.
“The fact that now people are starting to say that the church covered this up or that there was evil intent is absolutely obnoxious,” he said.
Flegge said he is careful not to become suspect of any charges of sexual misconduct. He had a window built into his office, and is careful only to hug children in the presence of their parents.
He said people who work with the church must watch a video about sexual abuse, and if any accusations were made the person would be removed.