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San Diego Catholic Diocese Holds Listening Sessions On Clergy Sex Abuse

October 2, 2018 3:58 p.m.

San Diego Catholic Diocese Holds Listening Sessions On Clergy Sex Abuse


John Sepulvado, host, The California Report

Related Story: San Diego Catholic Diocese Holds Listening Sessions On Clergy Sex Abuse


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

This is KPBS midday edition. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh in the first of a series of listening sessions conducted by San Diego Roman Catholic Bishop Robert McElroy. The bishops certainly found out that parishioners had something to say about clergy sex abuse. Monday night's meeting at Our Mother of confidence church and University City drew more than 300 people. The bishop called a series of meetings after the release of a grand jury report in Pennsylvania which found widespread sex abuse by hundreds of Catholic priests over the last 70 years. McElroy said the church is seeking input from parishioners to find a pathway to reform. Joining me is John SAPOL host of The California Report. And John welcome. Hi Maureen thanks for having me. You were at the meeting in University City last night.

How would you describe the general atmosphere packed tense angry. I was expecting to hear people really upset about the sex abuse itself and the potential alleged cover up of it. And of course some of the these are just allegations that haven't been confirmed. And what we found were about 350 people were the vast majority of them really zeroed in on the ideas of chastity. They thought that there was a culture that allowed this type of sexual lust to just infiltrate every every aspect of the priesthood. And they also talked about homosexuality a lot. Those were the words they used and they talked about how there was a quote subculture of homosexuality within the Vatican in the priesthood and they wanted Bishop McElroy to do something about that. That led to a lot of tension and it was not just because the bishop was not quick to condemn homosexuality in fact he wanted to make it very clear that he loved all people regardless of what their orientation was. But it just had a feel of something that was very I don't know how to explain it like watched. There was this feeling that like people were very much that there was a lot of security there was a lot of press. And these are talking about the inner most workings of how people address their faith. So there was this natural tension built into it. And then on top of that there was this conflict between the laypeople and the bishop.

Let's set the tone of this though. Did the bishop give some opening remarks. What kinds of things did he say.

You know he really spoke about how this had happened. The latest accusation was about 2002 that these eight priests most of them are not even alive anymore. And the San Diego diocese you know that's under the back that's of the people that we that we know of that have been alleged to do this. We know that there is a lawsuit that has just been filed that alleges between Los Angeles L.A. Orange County there are 300 priests who are accused of doing this so there is a big numbers gap. But overall he really set the stage the tone for there to be reconciliation and to let people know that there was a response. The Catholic parishioners didn't really seem to be buying that though they wanted more action and they want to clear cut answers for why this has happened and what's going to be done to prevent it in the future.

So you're telling us that same sex relationships were a major focus of those bigots. How did they express themselves.

There was a lot of anger and in fact I was sitting next to a gentleman who at one point started shouting out of turn and threw down his papers and stormed out because he felt that the bishop was not condemning homosexuality with enough vigor. And we heard a lot of questions like this anytime it was brought up about this quote unquote culture of homosexuality. There was a response like this one is where a Marine I really want to make it very clear despite the fact that there is absolutely no evidence and no nothing to suggest that because of someone's sexual orientation that there are more or less likely to abuse someone that in their minds this Catholic community had really linked those to falsely.

What was the Bishop's response to all this.

You know the bishop made it very clear that in the Bible it says that it's any sexual activity outside of marriage between a man and a woman is considered to be immoral. But that wasn't strong enough for these folks. They wanted to know that no gay priest would ever be hired. They wanted to know that the church was trying to do something to root out. You know this type of orientation and the bishop refused to go there and in fact he said you know I'm going to hire. He didn't say in many words I'm paraphrasing I want to make it very clear but he said I'm going to hire gay priests if they're gay but they're not acting. And that's the I don't know the problem of. And then he also said and that got a lot of moans that got a lot of people angry. He also said that he didn't deny that there were homosexuals already in the church. Gay men in the church and I think that that did not sit well. So they wanted stronger action. And he didn't do that. In fact he was he seemed very loving and kind and the way that he could be fine with church doctrine towards LGBTQ people and he told them that he didn't want to persecute them out of the church.

Now it's my understanding that Bishop McElroy pointed to the fact that reforms are already in place and also said that since there have not been allegations against priests in the diocese now that those reforms seem to be working.

You know the bishop did point to a lot of reforms and it was very clear that he thought these reforms were working. I think that this group of Catholics were very upset with the idea that none of these people to their knowledge had been prosecuted. Many of these things happened long ago. But we should mention that Bishop McElroy when he took in this is based on my colleague Polly striker's reporting when he took the reins of this diocese. There were a lot of problems and a lot of concerns about things that had happened previously. And he really worked quickly to root them out. It wasn't what the audience wanted to hear but there was a lot of truth to this that he has worked aggressively to push elements that are questionable out of this diocese.

It's worth noting that the San Diego diocese paid the second highest settlement the nation for clergy sex abuse cases. About 10 or so years ago. Now this is the first in a number of listening sessions that the bishop will be holding through this month and into November. We have a listing of those on our Web site. K.P. dot org. And I've been speaking with John Sepulvado, host of The California Report. John thank you.

Thank you.