The Deacon's Bench

The Deacon's Bench

Haunted by the dead

The ongoing sex abuse scandals of the Church are even reaching beyond the grave.

The New York Times reports the unusual story of a small town in Indiana coping with one beloved priest’s decidedly mixed legacy:

Msgr. Othmar Schroeder was revered in this town of 12,000 for starting a parish and a school. The Knights of Columbus Council in Jasper was named for him. He served his entire 50-year career locally.


Now the bishop is calling on churches here to remove photos of the late priest and rescind honors that were given him, because he is suspected of having molested scores of young boys.

The bishop, Gerald A. Gettelfinger, has also prevailed upon the Knights of Columbus Council to change its name, and is considering what to do about a 12-foot stone crucifix dedicated in Monsignor Schroeder’s memory at the cemetery of Sacred Heart Church in nearby Schnellville, where he is buried.

The developments in Jasper, some 40 miles northeast of Evansville, come 19 years after Monsignor Schroeder’s death, and 11 after Bishop Gettelfinger first learned of accusations against him.

Monsignor Schroeder, the founding pastor of Holy Family Church, was never disciplined by the Diocese of Evansville or charged with a crime, and the diocese is under no threat of a lawsuit. Still, Bishop Gettelfinger said in an interview, he is sure the abuse occurred. And while he would not say how many victims had approached church authorities — none of the victims have spoken publicly — he did say that “in terms of potential numbers,” this was the largest sexual abuse scandal in the history of the 70-parish diocese, which has seen others.


The bishop said he was acting now because it was only early this month that he began learning the scope of the abuse. Since then, he has spoken on consecutive weekends at parishes where Monsignor Schroeder served. Bishop Gettelfinger said those appearances had generated even more accusations against the monsignor.

“This isn’t ancient history” for the victims, the bishop said, speaking after Mass on a Saturday at one of Monsignor Schroeder’s former parishes. “The pain they are experiencing is still very real.”

Of all things, it was a parade float that appears to have set the current events in motion. On Aug. 5, the Knights of Columbus Council entered the float in a parade celebrating the community’s German heritage. A banner with the priest’s name adorned the entry, upsetting some paradegoers.

Bishop Gettelfinger said this and other symbols “were constant reminders.”

“Any time a victim saw those,” he said, “it reopened the wounds of a child.”

Wounds, it seems, that may never completely heal. Even long after the abuser is dead and gone.

Photo: Othmar Schroeder, from the Jasper, IN Herald

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posted August 30, 2007 at 1:00 pm

This story “hits home” for me as I was molested by two priests when a young boy of 11. While both priests are deceased, one left the priesthood; the other remained a priest until he died in 1987. Each year, on the day of his death, his name is included in the monthly list of priests who died that month. It is printed in the diocesan newspaper and parishioners of the diocese are asked to pray for him. The priest abused more than once and only recently did I speak to yet another victim of this “priest” people are asked to pray for…acknowledging his service to the Church. It revictimizes all who were abused by him. The Church is not perfect. But it can remove his name from the list. Do you not agree?

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Pristinus Sapienter

posted August 30, 2007 at 2:00 pm

Anon,To any public regard, I agree . . .But, for your own consolation at God’s hands, include the priests in your prayers. In offering to our merciful God their salvation you come to forgiveness for them, a deeper appreciation for God’s loving mercy and your own salvation. As well, God will help you to understanding that we are all of us weak sinners before our God, and require His graces to get Home with Him.I pray for you. God bless you with His mercy and your own graces of forgiveness.

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Pristinus Sapienter

posted August 30, 2007 at 2:12 pm

Oh, Anon,I forgot to mention that we are tied as brothers by being made of ‘nothing but love’.Let us, His beloved children, permit the Spirit to raise us to His salvation for us, each of us as He will have it. Our Father knows us uniquely, and brings each of us to Himself uniquely – each our own narrow way – as any good parent knows about each of his children.One day, let us dance, you and I, brother, with the Spirit before the Love Who made us of – nothing . but . Himself!Take peace and joy of our Love.

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Deacon Greg Kandra

posted August 30, 2007 at 3:22 pm

Anon: Those who fall short of the grace of God (which includes all of us) need prayers in life and in death. Even men who were monsters merit our prayers. Christ Himself told us to love our enemies and pray for our persecutors. As P.S. indicated, it often does as much good for the one who prays as it does for the one who is prayed for. With that in mind, please know that you and all those who suffered this abuse are remembered in many prayers — including my own. Blessings,Dcn. Greg

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posted September 20, 2007 at 1:06 pm

Dear Anonymous: Maybe you should ask to have your name (and the other survivors’ names) ADDED to list. If you’re uncomfortable with having your name publicized, you could simply INSIST that they say/print “Please pray for Father___and his abuse victims.”Holding out hope that the church will EVER put victims’ feelings and needs above those of a dead pedophile priest is lofty hope, indeed. Don’t hold your breath.BUT you have a right to insist that your feelings be considered and I encourage you to pit the worth of your soul against his and start demanding a little of that “compassion” the bishops keep saying they have for victims of clergy sexual abuse.

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