Responding to the recent controversy involving the Roman Catholic Church and Pope Benedict XVI, students voiced overwhelming support of St. John’s as a Catholic institution.
Students consistently described the recent sex abuse cases involving Catholic priests as “disgusting.” The New York Times ran several front-page articles as accusations of child molestation were brought to light.
Other news organizations such as the Associated Press have reported details on the growing allegations involving pedophilia within the clergy on almost a daily basis.Junior Ronald Sarr supported St. John’s as a Catholic institution in a time when reports of sex scandals are being covered by the media.
“I don’t think it really reflects the mission of St. John’s,” he said. “The University is founded on Vincentian ideals like serving the poor and communities. In fact, I think that St. John’s would stand up for its ideals if something like this were to occur under the Church.”
In the past few months, claims of pedophilia arose in Catholic churches in Austria, the United States, Ireland, and the Pope’s native country Germany.
According to The New York Times, Father Lawrence Murphy, a priest at St. John’s School for the Deaf in St. Francis, Wisconsin, was allowed to go unpunished and without a trial after allegedly molesting as many as 200 deaf boys. Pope Benedict XVI, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, was one of the Vatican officials accused of inaction during this time.
Freshman Anna Przemielewska said that she thought the cover-up was shady and hypocritical.
“The priests are supposed to be educating and protecting these kids,” she said. “They just keep saying, ‘those are the bad ones,’ and I think that’s not being fair. It shouldn’t be just the priests that are responsible, the whole Church is a part of it.”
Other students responded differently to the role of the church in the sexual-abuse allegations. Freshman Anita Jaikaran said ultimately it doesn’t change her view of the Catholic faith.
“It’s disgusting, I don’t think the whole Vatican is responsible though,” she said. “It’s individual priests that are at fault, but I think that the Pope should be addressing the situation more.”
Both Jaikaran and Przemielewska agreed that the charges being brought against the Catholic Church have not affected their views about St. John’s as a Catholic university.
“It doesn’t change my view of going to a Catholic School,” Jaikaran said. “I’m not Catholic but it doesn’t change my view of the faith either.”
Przemielewska described similar feelings about the nature of the University.
“I don’t really see St. John’s as strictly Catholic,” Przemielewska said, “It’s religious in nature but they don’t impose those views on you.”
Basilio Monteiro, assistant professor of communications, journalism and media studies described the separation between Catholicism as a faith and the Catholic Church as an institution.
“Most people are able to distinguish the faith as opposed to the opposition of the Church,” he said. “The Church is an institution run by human beings, and all human beings are fragile. That does not mean they are not capable of doing good things.”
“As much as the situation is uncomfortable, we have to speak about it,” Monteiro said.Sophomore Michelle Brandner agreed that although these allegations are serious, the nature of St. John’s as a catholic university remains intact.
“I’ve been in Catholic school my whole life and this type of scandal is not necessarily new,” she said. “It’s been going on for years in churches around the nation but it’s never caused me to leave the institution of the Catholic school. I’m still here.”
The reports of priestly pedophilia themselves draw reactions from students.
“I think it’s disgusting, but I don’t blame the entire church for it,” Brandner said. “Its individuals who are truly at fault.”
The secrecy employed by the Church involved with allegations of rape and molestation has led victims and governments to allege conspiracy in the cover-up.
Francis Holland, associate professor of humanities, detailed some of the queries being raised against the Catholic Church.
“In these news articles, the faith is seen to be very much defined by the institution,” he said. “In Europe, Ireland and Germany, there’s a worldwide ripple effect; is Pope Benedict embroiled in the cover-up? Is he complicit? Should he step aside?”
Some students have heard about the reports of pedophilia within the church and are afraid to comment on the situation. One student who asked to remain anonymous was upset with the way the Church handled the situation.
“It’s disgusting, I’ve been going to Catholic school my whole life and I think priests like this shouldn’t be anywhere near children. The Church should remove them from their positions immediately when they find out something like that is going on.”
According to Professor Holland, talking about the difficult subject is potentially risky.
“I imagine a fear might be, if you raise the issue at the University level, you’re adding fuel to the fire.”