Victoria priest addresses Catholic church sex scandals
April 24, 2010 at 9 p.m.
Updated April 23, 2010 at 11:24 p.m.
The Rev. Stan DeBoe, pastor of Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church, is familiar with sex abuse in the Catholic Church.
DeBoe, a Trinitarian, spent three years beginning in 2005 addressing the issue with victims and abusers. The experience left him with hope for healing and focus on prevention in the church, he said.
"That probably had to be one of my most challenging jobs," he said. "It's not always easy to look at the dark side of our lives, and this really made us look at what sin was like inside of the church and how we can bring hope and healing out of it."
Church sex scandals made headlines recently as news of the church's mishandling of sex abuse cases came to light in Europe and the United States.
Leadership from bishops to Pope Benedict face criticism and even lawsuits from victims claiming nothing was done to address child sex abuse concerns.
Child sex abuse affects more than 95 percent of Catholic dioceses and about 60 percent of religious communities, according to a 2004 study by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
"It's been very painful for everyone in the church - probably especially for priests," said Bishop David Fellhauer, with the Catholic Diocese of Victoria.
Although Fellhauer did not give an exact figure, he said the number of sex abuse allegations against local clergy are minimal.
The bigger issue for Fellhauer and DeBoe are what the church has done to address victims and abusers.
"The main thing is they wanted to be heard, they wanted their story to be told," DeBoe said, speaking about his experience working with victims. "For too long, there was a silence from the church and from society and when this story started to break the church couldn't turn its back on it anymore. We had to find some way to respond so we could prevent this from happening again."
DeBoe is cheery; he usually sports a toothy smile with his clerical collar and is popular among church members.
His pet beagle, Betsy, has a permanent bed under a table covered with photos of family and friends in his office.
But, priestly life often places clergy in situations that can be a breeding ground for stress or loneliness, key factors he found led clergy into abusive situations.
"They often acted out in inappropriate ways seeking attention or affection or acknowledgement. Rather than seeking it from an adult or another priest they sought it from children," he said.
Priests have three things that make it much easier for abuse to occur: access, trust and power. Most leadership had these with children. Often, there was a slippery slope of events involving other illicit activities like addiction or a dead prayer life that compounded an abuser's life.
Since 2002, the Catholic church has undergone a complete overhaul to protect children. Every diocese now has an entire program, the Safe Environment Program, to address the safety of children within the church.
In Victoria, the office is funded with a $38,000 budget and is responsible for training, investigating or creating awareness on how to prevent child sex abuse. Every volunteer or teacher must undergo training and a background check before interacting with minors. The church is also audited by a non-church entity to ensure they are following policies.
Once an allegation is made, the church will respond with an investigation, DeBoe explained. Clergy are also required to face civil authorities, however since many of the allegations fall outside statues of limitations, few ever receive criminal charges.
But few cases even make it past the allegations phase, DeBoe said. Only about two percent of clergy have ever been found guilty of sex abuse since the 1950s until the year 2000.
But DeBoe noted the positive repercussions that have surfaced.
"I think one of the things that come out of this is the Catholic church in the United States is a leader in the prevention of child sexual abuse within an institution," he said.
Throughout the controversy DeBoe, and other priests believe their congregations have remained undaunted.
The Rev. Michael Lyons, pastor of Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Catholic Church in Ganado said he's seen larger waves of new members despite the scandals.
"I think that people see that is the answer - the church," he said.
DeBoe believes it's given members insight on the needs of priests.
"I think people have been more supportive of priests and religious. They're taking on an additional responsibility of helping to care for us so that we remain healthy," he said. "They don't put us on a pedestal but see us for who we are - as human beings capable of failure."
Despite the scandals, DeBoe believes it does not mean the end of the church.
"The first things we thought of was this was going to destroy the church," he said. "Well, after 2,000 years, there have been a lot of other things that have happened."
Instead, he believes the controversy has strengthened the organization.
"This was just the spirit moving this out in the open so we could become the church we were supposed to be," he said.