Catholic churches near campus respond to national crises

Raga Justin

Catholic parishes near UT are offering counseling services and training to prevent sexual abuse in response to an August Pennsylvania grand jury report, which revealed statewide sexual abuse by hundreds of Catholic priests and the resulting cover-up by church officials.

St. Austin Catholic Parish and the University Catholic Center are two popular churches for Catholic students. St. Austin, which has an estimated 300 to 400 student attendees during weekend services, released an open letter after the August report came out. The letter, written by the Rev. Charles Kullmann, proposed a parish mission be held Oct. 22, focused on addressing concerns. 

“(The letter) was an attempt to sum up some of the feelings that are going around and give voice to them in reflection on where we’re at right now,” Kullmann said. 

In the Pennsylvania report, 300 Catholic priests were implicated for the sexual abuse of more than 1,000 minors across the state over a period of 70 years. Bishops and cardinals, high-ranking officials in the Catholic church, were implicated for covering up those abuses. 

Kullmann said St. Austin will be conducting extensive training for church staff to identify and report abuse. However, the training should not be limited to members of the ministry, he said.

“Unfortunately this isn’t just a problem in the church,” Kullmann said. “The more people who are out looking and know what to look for, the better off we’re all going to be. Rather than just wringing our hands and feeling bad about it, we want to do something helpful.”

The Rev. Larry Rice, a priest at the University Catholic Center, said there are several policies in place to protect children, students and vulnerable adults from abuse. He said since 2002, ministry members at the UCC have undergone extensive background checks. In addition, offices have glass doors and adults are not allowed to be alone with children. To protect students, security cameras are installed around the facility, Rice said. 

Rice said he had extensive meetings with student leaders to discuss their concerns after the report came out earlier this semester. He said Catholic students, while upset, are not likely to become disillusioned with their religion. 

“What I’ve noticed is that students are angry and disappointed and upset, all of which is completely understandable,” Rice said. “But among the ones that I’ve talked to, they haven’t had a crisis of faith because their faith is in God, not the church. They are wise enough to make that distinction.”

Mechanical engineering senior Joe Zaghrini said he felt as though younger Catholics have grown up in an era when the Catholic church is often viewed with suspicion. 

“I guess I kind of regard everyone with that level of skepticism and I don’t think priests should be exempt from that,” Zaghrini said. “At the same time, it doesn’t really change my overall approach, which is to be careful because people can be deceiving, whether or not they’re priests.”

Aaron Hannie, president of the Longhorn Catholic Council, said moving forward Catholic students need to be vocal in addressing issues of abuse.

“It’s important for us to act as the catalyst, because we are the ones that are taking in the tradition right now,” accounting senior Hannie said. “One day we will be — and in some cases are already — the leaders.”