Bishop responds to concerns during town hall meetings

COLUMBIA —People in the pews around South Carolina are expressing their concern, their sadness and their anger about sexual abuse in the Church, and Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone and others from the Diocese of Charleston are listening. 

On Dec. 11 at the Basilica of St. Peter, about 100 people attended the third in a series of town hall meetings Bishop Guglielmone scheduled for each deanery. Previous meetings were at St. Gregory the Great in Bluffton and Blessed Sacrament in Charleston.

The flames of the current abuse crisis in the Church were stoked by a grand jury report chronicling years of abuse in Pennsylvania dioceses, plus the forced resignation of Archbishop Theodore McCarrick in the wake of abuse allegations.

The crowd at St. Peter heard from Bishop Guglielmone and Bonnie Sigers, safe environment manager in the diocesan Office of Child and Youth Protection. 

Bishop Guglielmone expressed his anger and concern about the crisis, prayed with the crowd and offered a reading from Paul’s letter to Titus, which addresses the importance of God’s grace. He described the current status of abuse investigations in the diocese and said that a list of priests credibly accused since 1950 will be released no later than February. 

He then opened the floor to questions and comments and attendees formed a line to speak. Some asked why abusive priests here and in other areas were simply transferred in the past instead of being reported to authorities. Others asked what can be done to make bishops more accountable and how to deal with the issue of sexual abuse in seminaries. 

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Several people commented on how  to help address the situation, from supporting victims of abuse to increasing prayer for priests and church leaders. One person asked what support was available for priests who might find themselves victims of false accusations. Another talked about the pain an abusive priest caused in a parish in another state, but also noted how another priest’s strength and grace helped people deal with the situation.

Bishop Guglielmone said all of the perspectives are important to hear, and he asked people to hold Church leaders accountable and realize that clergy are human like everyone else. He said the crisis calls for a renewed commitment to prayer and a serious effort to reach out to all victims of sexual abuse, whether they were abused by clergy, family members or others in the community.

“We must find ways to reach out to those who have been abused and help them to move from being abuse victims to survivors,” Bishop Guglielmone said. “The victims who have come forward have done the Church a great service, and now we need purification of society as a whole from this evil.” 

Other meetings will be Jan. 10 at St. Michael Church in Murrells Inlet, Jan. 14 at St. Mary Help of Christians Church in Aiken, Jan. 28 at St. Anne Church in Rock Hill and Jan. 29 at St. Mary Church in Greenville. 

File photo of Bishop Guglielmone