The Suburbanite
  • A conversation with Bishop Murry

  • The spiritual shepherd of 220,000 Catholics, including those in Stark County, recently spoke with The Repository on a range of topics related to Catholicism, and the diocese in particular.

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  • Since he became head of the Catholic Diocese of Youngstown in 2007, Bishop George V. Murry said the plans undertaken by the church have been done with the goal of making it stronger and more accessible to parishioners.
    The spiritual shepherd of 220,000 Catholics, including those in Stark County, recently spoke with The Repository on a range of topics related to Catholicism, and the diocese in particular.
    A new poll suggests there is a widening gap between American Catholics and their church’s hierarchy. One of the issues still troubling those surveyed is the church’s handling of sexual-abuse accusations. But Murry said the Catholic Church’s child-protection policies have been effective since they were introduced.
    The Youngstown Diocese implemented its Child Protection Policy in 1994.
    In recent weeks, Murry has had to deal with allegations that the late Brother Stephen Baker victimized students at John F. Kennedy High School during the 1980s, and at a second high school in Pennsylvania in the ’90s. Baker committed suicide on Jan. 11, after a lawsuit centered on the accusations came to light.
    Murry wrote a public apology on behalf of the diocese, and urged any additional victims to come forward.
    Nationally, a policy to protect children was spurred when there was a broad change in how mental-health experts viewed treatment for pedophiles, Murry said.
    “At the end of the 1990s into 2000, it was becoming clear that many of the directives that had come out, for example, from the American Psychiatric Association about pedophilia, were being changed,” he said. “Until 1985, the American Psychiatric Association took the position that a person who had a penchant toward children, could be ‘cured.’
    “In 1985, the association issued a directive that pedophiles could not be cured, but only controlled. Many church leaders had dealt with the problem as a ‘moral’ problem rather than a psychological problem. They’d send a person off for therapy, then put them back in ministry, not realizing it didn’t fix the problem. By 1999, it became clear there needed to be a national policy that was consistent, not just a policy where one diocese says ‘No ministry,’ while another said ‘Yes, with a year of therapy.’”
    In 2002, the Vatican approved the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People and the Essential Norms for Diocesan/Eparchial Polices Dealing with the Allegations of the Sexual Abuse of Minors by Priests or Deacons.”
    Murry said he was surprised at a previous poll in which only a small percentage of Catholics could specify what the church has done to protect children.
    “I was floored by the response,” he said. “It was someplace in the 30s. Perhaps I thought we had done a good job getting out the information as to what actions we had taken as institution to challenge the problem.”
    Page 2 of 3 - Murry explained that under the child-protection charter, everyone who works in the church, who interacts with children, undergoes training to recognize and report even a suspicion of child abuse.
    “Even the janitor in the school has to be fingerprinted and must undergo a background check,” he said. “There are yearly audits; we’re reaching out to victims and families when we’re notified. When a victim contacts us, I would say nine of 10 times, the victim makes it clear he or she doesn’t want it publicized. We have to respect that.”
    Given that the vast majority of abuse cases are least 15 years old, Murry said seminaries are doing a much better job of screening candidates. Adding that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops publishes a yearly report of abuse cases, “By far, it’s startling to hear of a present-day case,” he said.
    Last year, the Youngstown Diocese announced it would begin the process of “regionalizing” its schools, to make them more efficient and cohesive. In 2012, Monsignor Lewis Gaetano of Christ the Servant parish, was named president of Stark County Regional Catholic School System.
    “Instead of individual schools, we’ll come together in a way that we’ll have one president responsible for coordinating activities, fundraising and marketing,” Murry explained. “School principals will work with the president to develop an ‘economy of scale.’ What happens when there are multiple schools in an area is they unintentionally start to compete with each other.”
    Murry said he could foresee some schools specializing in math, science, arts, or languages.
    “We’re going to ensure that there’s a Catholic school in every section of the diocese,” he added. “We want as many as possible, to maintain a presence, but the reality is, some are facing serious financial problems. The question is, can they be resolved?”
    Unlike the controversy that roiled the Cleveland Diocese when it consolidated some parishes, Murry said the Youngstown Diocese took great pains to ensure that the decision-making was put in the hands of people who were directly involved.
    “We tried to keep decisions on the level of the deanery as much as possible,” he said. “Of the 30-plus plans I received, I only had to turn down two. I think the pastors were extremely good in engaging parishioners. Closing a parish is never a joyful event, there’s always some sorrow.
    “With the schools, we have to of course, look at the condition of various school buildings and where can we provide best possible education and resources for our students. I don’t see any realistic way we can maintain every single school we have. Financially, it’s impossible. We have more seats than students, so we’re going to have to make some changes. But it doesn’t necessarily mean a building has to close.”
    Page 3 of 3 - Murry — who converted to Catholicism as a child — said running schools is the highest budget item for parishes who have them, which is why they need to be clear about the value of a Catholic school education.
    “In my parish in New Jersey, the sisters got no salary, they didn’t contribute to Social Security,” he said. “The major cost in a school today is personnel. The lay men and women who teach need to be paid a just and living wage.”
    Murry said he expects the new system to be in place by July 1, and the necessary changes to be completed over the next year.
    As the Catholic Church selects a new pope, some Americans also are calling for the Vatican to re-consider policies regarding clergy celibacy, women priests, and birth control, though traditionalists still slightly outnumber those calling for change.
    “Some people say to me, ‘We should have married priests.’ I tell them, ‘That’s out of my hands,’” Murry said, laughing. “When I watch my brother raising his three kids, when I see my friends with children, I don’t think I can do what I’m expected to do as priest, and be married. My family wouldn’t see much of me. I think there’s real value in celibacy. It helps a priest to be available to his people, to be a father to his people. Is it a closed question? That’s going to be up the next pope.”
    Murry said the diocese’s key focus is evangelization. It has shrunk by about 44,000 parishioners over the last decade, due in part to the economy.
    “We’re very serious in reaching out Catholics of all ages in the diocese, and welcoming them to church,” the bishop said. “We believe the source of our life is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We believe that if people come to Gospel, they will find a deep and abiding peace and joy. We’re not sitting back, watching the numbers decline. There’s a lot of people in the diocese who are excited and involved. We’re asking people if there’s a problem, how can we help?”

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