The Deacon's Bench

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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