CAPE MAY — People across the pews at Our Lady Star of the Sea Church fidgeted uncomfortably during Mass on Sunday, while others looked stoically at the priest while he read a letter from Bishop Dennis J. Sullivan condemning “treasonous sins” against the church’s teachings.
The letter, which was read during the homily of Masses throughout the Diocese of Camden, was written in the wake of a scathing grand jury report in Pennsylvania that accused some in the Catholic Church’s leadership of covering up child sex abuse by about 300 priests for decades.
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“I think the bishop’s letter struck the right tone,” said Brian Guthrie, a Pennsylvania native who now lives in Cape May with his wife, Irene, every summer. “You have to be careful with all of the accusations, because none of those people had their day in court, but I’m deeply troubled with what I read in the grand jury report, and overall, it seems pretty balanced.”
Irene Guthrie, attending Mass with her husband, said it’s up to the bishops to restore trust in the church’s leadership.
“When the original allegations came out years ago, we were told to just pray,” Guthrie said. “Now we actually see some action, and hopefully it’s not just window dressing.”
Since 2003, the year after The Boston Globe uncovered years of sexual abuse and the cover-ups in the Archdiocese of Boston, the Diocese of Camden has provided safe environment training to all children in the diocese schools and religious programs that teaches them how to recognize what is physical and sexual abuse and encourages them to report it to an adult, according to Sullivan.
The diocese also provides training to adults who are in regular contact with children to recognize warning signs of abuse, and teaches them how to report suspected abuse to the authorities. All adults who work with children must pass a criminal background check.
Since 2002, the Diocese of Camden has had an agreement with the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office to report suspected abuse regardless of whether the victim is now an adult or the person being accused is now dead or how long ago the alleged abuse occurred.
“Both the teachings of the Church and the civil law require that the best interests of the child always be paramount,” Sullivan said in the letter. “It is shameful that, in past decades, far too many in the Church failed in their responsibility to keep predators from children. The Diocese is taking every possible step to see that this does not happen in the future.”
Sullivan continued by saying it was particularly painful to read the grand jury report because parents expect children to be safe while in the care of churches, schools and institutions.
“I am ashamed and disgusted by the past actions of some bishops and priests,” Sullivan said.
Catholicism is the most common religion practiced by residents of New Jersey, according to a study commissioned by the Pew Research Center.
Nearly 67 percent of adults in New Jersey are Christian, and 34 percent of those are Catholic, according to the study.
Sue Ross, a Harrisburg resident who worked for the state legislature for 38 years and visits Cape May several times a year, said Sunday after Mass the grand jury report proves that everyone is human and that we all “fall from sin.”
“No matter what comes to light, whether in religion or government or wherever ... awareness is always the key,” Ross said, holding back tears. “And I think another key is always forgiveness.”