Bishop’s service focused on prayer, healing

Photos by Brittney Lohmiller/The Herald
Joseph M. Siegel, Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Evansville, prostrates himself before the altar at St. Joseph Catholic Church while leading a service for healing and reparation in response to sexual abuse allegations within the Catholic Church on Tuesday evening in Jasper.


JASPER — They prayed for the church. They prayed for those whose innocence was stolen. And they prayed for all who abuse others.

Catholics from across the Catholic Diocese of Evansville’s Eastern Deanery gathered at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Jasper on Tuesday night for a service of prayer and healing following the latest sexual assault allegations against priests that have surfaced in recent months.

“It’s an important event all the way around when you consider what came out in the press and the newspaper about Pittsburgh over there,“ said Kay Hagerdon, a member of St. Joseph and a greeter at Tuesday’s service. “When that happens, it’s important that we all gather together in prayer for one another, because there’s people that have been hurting and we need to help them.”

The event was the third stop on a four-parish tour that Bishop Joseph M. Siegel with the Evansville diocese began last week at St. James Church in Haubstadt and will conclude today at 6:30 p.m. at Our Lady of Hope Catholic Church in Washington. All the prayer services have been open to the public.

The Herald and other members of the press were asked to leave Tuesday’s event about 10 minutes after the service began. A litany of healing and an opening prayer by Siegel were given in those first few minutes.

“The one thing that we don’t know is who might show up,” Tim Lilley, the diocese’s communications director, said prior to the event. “Whether there are victims who are recovering, victims’ family members, whatever. And we want to respect their privacy and respect their dignity. This is a prayer service, it’s not something that we’re doing as a public show, if you will. It’s truly a prayer service and we’re hoping that we can keep it that way.”

The string of prayer services come less than two months after a grand jury report found the Roman Catholic Church in Pennsylvania covered up child sexual abuse by more than 300 priests over seven decades.

Lilley said before Tuesday’s event that Siegel felt the need to reach out to the public and express sincere, heartfelt apologies on behalf of the church. In addition to the Pennsylvania grand jury report, he said attendees have heard allegations against Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, as well as clergy across the world.

“This is a significant weight, I think, on the hearts of the faithful,” Lilley said. “And the bishop wanted to come out and assure them that he is with them. He is walking with them. He and the diocese stand ready to assist those who choose to come forward, even regarding things that may have happened decades ago.”

Though The Herald did not hear Siegel’s homily Tuesday, Lilley said that Siegel’s message included his regret for the actions of certain members of clergy, and his desire to move forward with the people and offer assistance in ways such as counseling and a listening ear.

Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Evansville Joseph M. Siegel leads a service for healing and reparation in response to sexual abuse allegations within the Catholic Church at St. Joseph Catholic Church on Tuesday evening in Jasper. 

Lilley said Siegel also assured those in attendance that the diocese has had policies, procedures and guidelines in effect for 15 years to make sure “that this kind of thing doesn’t happen again.”

In September, the Evansville diocese suspended a priest, Father David Fleck, after receiving a report of sexual misconduct that allegedly occurred decades ago. That priest is on administrative leave and the investigation is continuing. Lilley said he has no timeline for when it will be wrapped up.

The diocese also recently announced that it is in the process of compiling a list of priests against whom credible allegations of abuse of young people have been made over the years, going all the way back to the elevation of the diocese in 1944. Lilley said there is no definitive timeline for that, either, but said those working on it are doing so expeditiously and accurately.

He said there is a “Youth Protection” tab on the diocese’s website that provides information and a phone number to contact a victim assistance coordinator. Anyone who has been abused — regardless of when the abuse occurred — is encouraged to use the resource.

“We stand ready to work with those folks,” Lilley said. “If there are allegations out there that need to be reported, we encourage them to do so.”

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