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Questions of Faith: Rebuilding the Church

Aired May 28, 2003 - 19:39   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: In its long history, the sexual abuse scandal may be one of the worst things that has happened to the Catholic Church. Has the Church done enough to heal the wounds opened by the charges? Can it? Is it possible? And what's the impact of the scandal been on the American Catholic Church?
To discuss those issues I am joined now by Father Thomas Reese, the editor in chief of "America," the national Catholic weekly magazine.

Father Reese, thanks very much for being with us.

REV. THOMAS REESE, EDITOR, "AMERICA": Certainly.

COOPER: The impact on this on the American church, what has it been?

REESE: Well, it's had a terrible impact on the American church. I mean, what Chris just recounted touches me personally. I grew up in Orange County in California, and to have an abusive priest who the authorities knew was abusive and wasn't gotten out of ministry is just a crime. It's terrible. It shouldn't have been done and this is the kind of thing that the bishops last year at Dallas said simply cannot go on. And they adopted their zero tolerance policy.

COOPER: And I mean, what kind of impact has that had? In just your experience in the last year, what have you seen?

REESE: Well, I think that what's happened is we've seen more and more cases come up. People have come forward. They've gone to the police or authorities. They've gone to the bishops. They've reported priests and whenever these priests have been reported, they've been removed from ministry, the Church or the police begin an investigation and when there's credible evidence that the man did do something, then he is removed from ministry and he's, you know, going to be permanently removed from ministry if he was involved in this kind of abuse.

COOPER: There are, though, so many people who were skeptical of pronouncements of the Church and you know, they said we've heard this in the past. In the 1980s, all these cases -- a lot of these cases came to the fore and the church said they would do stuff and they would really move against it and yet nothing was done, so say a lot of the critics.

Why should people believe that the Church is really serious now?

REESE: Well, I think that one thing that gives this more credibility today is the spotlight of publicity.

I mean, frankly, the Church has not liked the kind of publicity they these cases have gotten. But that's the one thing that, in fact, has saved the Church. It's simply impossible now for a bishop to keep a priest in ministry who has been accused of abuse because the victims are going to go to the press. They're going to go to the police. It's going to become public and people are going to be outraged if that kind of thing happens.

So there's very strong public opinion that's forcing the bishops to do the right thing.

COOPER: Very briefly, some of your personal experiences over the last year or so. I know -- I mean, you talked to priests, they say it has changed the way they are perceived, walking down the street. Just personally, I understand you are much more less free in your interaction with some people in your parish. Is that right?

REESE: Oh, absolutely. I think priests -- this has had a terrible impact on good priests. You think twice, or three times, 10 times before you hug a child after mass.

COOPER: Would you hug children after mass?

REESE: I don't. No. I don't any more, which is a tragedy that you can't do that kind of normal human thing anymore.

Priests have to bend over backwards. We have to be paranoid about how people perceive us and how we interact with children.

COOPER: Has had an impact, the financially and the bottom line, not so much the lawsuits, but in people's willingness to donate to the church?

REESE: Oh, yes. It has had an impact on do nations. People don't want to give money to pay for the -- the people in the pews don't want to give money to pay for the lawsuits. They want to give money to support Catholic school, their parish, the Catholic charities that the school does. But they don't want their money paying to going to the huge lawsuits.

COOPER: All right. Father Reese, appreciate you joining us. Thank you very much.

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