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Letter: Ideas for eliminating abuse in the Catholic Church

It is with disdainful eyes that I have read recent Forum reports of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. News stories and commentator opinions have appeared in basically all media forms since the Pennsylvanian revelation.

I have not been able to keep up with all of these, but I know enough to form an opinion. It must have been very difficult for Fargo Bishop John Folda to write his Aug. 30 commentary. His contribution is welcomed.

As a Christian liberal belonging to a mainline Protestant church, I have no personal ax to grind with the Catholic Church. Many of my friends in life had (and still have) membership and involvement in this church.

Among the clergy, it appears that a minority have been the actual perpetrators of investigated sexual abuse. That leaves many fine priests not directly engaged in abuse as being a credit to their church. Too often, it is a case of only a handful of apples spoiling the barrel—at least as far as how the barrel looks to the public from outside.

Having worked at a Minnesota state hospital during my career, I was involved in the Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) program, a chance for pastors of various denominations to learn about psychiatric and substance use disorders aside from having some time to reflect on where their clerical careers were headed.

I reviewed psychological test results with the directors who were a Catholic priest and nun. I enjoyed the experience. But that was some decades ago and perhaps church behaviors have changed since that time period.

I am left with a set of questions or suggestions toward helping this ailing church:

• The church hierarchy needs to strongly emphasize and require "mandated reporting." That means that any church staff who have information about actual abuse or suspected abuse are required to bring that forth to a reporting authority such as social services, law enforcement, or a legitimate church body that takes allegations seriously.

• Church members need to be educated about "zero tolerance" of such behaviors in the church with a strict reporting protocol to be followed should abuse situations arise. This could entail meetings, video presentations, church-sponsored online education, etc.

• In some way, the church needs to foster a culture of transparency for church members and the general public. This may require a careful balancing between openness and reasonable privacy in sensitive situations.

• By all means, vet, screen, and filter candidates for the priesthood even more carefully. Conduct a periodic fitness monitoring to ascertain whether the cleric is able to perform continued pastoral duties.

• The church needs to report more about what they are doing specifically to the news media rather than resort to politically correct generalities, platitudes, and well-intentioned-sounding pontifications.

I feel the reputation of this church is salvageable. The Catholic Church needs to invite the input of other Christian denominations, many of which may have their own collective guilt. Leave the casting of sin-directed stones aside.

Wehler lives in Moorhead

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