Sunday, December 27, 2009

Cincinnati's Archbishop Dennis Schnurr tackles sex abuse, lapsed faithful

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The new leader of the Cincinnati Archdiocese says he believes a return to the church can help heal spiritual wounds suffered by clergy abuse victims and help non-practicing Catholics better understand their faith and purpose in life.

Archbishop Dennis Schnurr took over this week as leader of the 19-county archdiocese of nearly a half-million Roman Catholics - one where a $3 million fund was set up in 2003 to settle sex abuse claims. The now-retired Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk established the fund after entering a no-contest plea on the archdiocese's behalf to charges that officials failed to report abuse of minors to authorities.

Schnurr told The Associated Press, commenting on issues facing the church and the archdiocese, that he realizes the hurdles involved in reconnecting with Catholics who have pulled away from the church - for whatever reason - and knows those hurdles are especially high with clergy abuse victims.

"These are deep wounds, and any deep wound takes a lot of time," Schnurr said.

The 61-year-old archbishop said church leaders have established new policies around the country to prevent abuse and are working on a study to determine its causes.

"If we can zero in on the causes of this, then we can even go further in putting together the safeguards that we need in order to better ensure that this will never happen again," Schnurr said.

The Iowa native said he talked with victims in Duluth, Minn., where he was bishop from 2001 to 2008, and apologized to them on the church's behalf.

"It's difficult for them to return to an environment where they felt they were safe and secure and in a place where they were going to be nurtured spiritually," Schnurr said. "I would invite them to consider coming back to the church because we believe that the sacraments are the place for real healing."

Schnurr said there is a need to reach out to all non-practicing Catholics as studies and pastors indicate fewer people attend Mass on a regular basis. He attributed that to various causes but said the church didn't always have a good religious education program.

"We haven't helped our people understand adequately the teachings of Christ and the sacramental life of the church that Christ has given to us and how that is important in our lives," Schnurr said.

Schnurr said he will continue to urge more church involvement from all Catholics in dealing with challenges, including the priest shortage and tight finances.

A priority for the new archbishop, who tripled the number of seminary students in Duluth, is to recruit more priests in an area where they have dropped from about 900 in the 1980s to 482. Schnurr traveled about 22,000 miles throughout the archdiocese the past year and said many of those trips involved talking with young men about the priesthood.

Some lay Catholics and others suggest that allowing priests to marry would increase the priesthood ranks. Schnurr said priest celibacy is a church discipline that could be changed because it is part of man-made cannon law.

"Do I think it's going to change? No," he said.

"Based on my life as a priest, if I tried to do both priesthood and married life, I would probably be a lousy priest and a miserable husband or father," he said with a laugh. "There just isn't time."

The archbishop also talked of new approaches to fundraising through more transparency.

"The more information we give our people on how the money is being managed, the more confidence they have," Schnurr said.

He said reports of money being misappropriated at some parish and diocesan levels around the country are disheartening. He said he advocates transparency along with good money management and accounting practices.

Schnurr said more involvement by lay people and everyone in the church is a key to success for the church and the archdiocese.

"I am very optimistic about what can happen in the church today," he said. Marion (Ohio) Star
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