Fr. William Fider is quite courageous. What a powerful local column he wrote on Dec. 2 (Priest's View: "Bishops, chancery officials who failed children can step aside"). I agreed with his subtle suggestion that Catholic Diocese of Duluth Bishop Paul Sirba and Vicar General Fr. James Bissonette resign their positions so we can all move forward.
The Catholic hierarchy has always been men. Perhaps it is time to open the door for the other 50 percent, namely women. If women participated in leadership roles, I do not see the crisis the Church is experiencing, with male predatory behavior, happening to the same great extent.
The women of the Catholic Church are assigned roles of servitude. We maintain the rectories, schools, and churches in a custodial manner. We are assigned secretarial duties, decorate for the holidays, and cook. We organize fundraisers and contribute from our resources. Yet we are never consulted in any significant decision-making. Something is so wrong with this exclusion of an entire gender - we who characteristically are primary caregivers for children, our elderly, the sick, and infirmed.
I believe this contributed to men targeting the priesthood as easy access to prey on the vulnerable. There apparently are few checks or balances within this male-dominated system. This occurs when you place little value on women and what they contribute. This male hierarchy rarely if ever questioned this epidemic abuse. Centuries of male sexual abuse occurred, and when the crisis of abuse was exposed, Catholic leaders dealt with allegations by denial and by protecting and relocating priests. Worse, church leaders kept their knowledge of these crimes and perpetrators secret.
Only when forced by exposure and public outrage did the Church come forward. And even then its male hierarchy hid behind the church and wove a veil of secrecy.
There has been little accountability on the part of our current church leaders. They are saying what everyone wants so badly to hear yet have lacked follow-through with their promises. Our children are victimized by predatory behavior only to have the abuse compounded by powerful men making empty promises.
I have respect for the priests who remain on the front lines. They have targets on their backs. The archdiocese of Minneapolis and St. Paul reached a $210 million settlement for abuse victims. The Duluth Diocese is currently in bankruptcy proceedings. Who would not be enticed by this kind of money to tell a lie? This may be a chance at winning the lottery.
But those who make false accusations take time, energy, resources away from and also negatively impact the credibility of true victims.
Now the pendulum has swung so far in the opposite direction that a whisper about a priest can compromise his reputation, religious life, and ministry. My brother, Fr. William Graham, is being victimized in this way. An allegation against him came hours before a window of opportunity to sue the church closed. My brother was immediately abandoned by Bishop Sirba and Vicar General Bissonette and was left to fend for himself. He took charge and sued his accuser, who now will pay $13,500 in damages after the civil trial. My brother won not because of some legal quirk or clever lawyering; he won because truth prevailed.
We as a diocese and as a society must hold wrongdoing men accountable - both the perpetrators and those who shield them - so victims can know the Catholic hierarchy also is held accountable. The current modus operandi of Catholic leaders seems to be to sever all ties, run and hide, and hope an accusation goes away. Sirba and Bissonette turning their backs on my brother was not proper shepherding of the flock. They failed not just as leaders but as Christians and as people.
How will the Church ever survive with such men at the helm? We as a society must hold them accountable, both the perpetrators and the men who shield them, so all victims of abuse can heal. Perhaps this may be the downfall of the Catholic structure as we know it. We can only hope and pray.
Gloria Graham of Proctor is a caregiver to those who are vulnerable, is the sister of Fr. William Graham, and was a member of St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church in Proctor.