As a priest, it's part of Apuzzo's job to counsel victims of abuse. It's also part of his job to communicate openly with youth members of his parish. Recently Apuzzo says some discussion was triggered among a group of young people and their adult mentors after a confirmation class at St. Gabriel's. While adults focused on issues of church governance and Cardinal Law, Apuzzo recalls thinking that the kids were missing out on what they really needed to understand: "What do they do if someone approaches them? They were sitting there as young people saying, 'What does it mean when a priest is accused of sexual abuse?'" Apuzzo hopes constructive dialogue will soon be encouraged. "We need to let a little of this dust fall and get these kids together again."
In the meantime Apuzzo is busy fielding phone calls.
"All the calls we're getting now are from people who say they've been abused. They want money, they want the police," he says. "They've been alienated from the church all their lives even if they've been sitting in the pews." And he's sure of another thing: The allegations haven't been limited to priests.
Recently Apuzzo says he has received calls from an array of adults who claim to have been sexually abused in their youth by elders whom they trusted, not just priests. Applying his theory more broadly, Apuzzo says it's a wake-up call for the Catholic Church on two levels. "It tells us we're not doing enough in the society where we are; so much so that we have it in our ranks." No matter your religion, age, rank, or occupation, "People have no idea of the horrible trauma and damage [sexual abuse] causes."
But does the priesthood contribute to patterns of sexual abuse? Apuzzo is adamant it doesn't. It's time for the Catholic Church to aggressively take a stand and answer the question many silently ask, he notes: "Are we talking about priests who become child abusers or child abusers who become priests? I think it's the latter," he says. "It's like an alcoholic who is a bartender who makes good drinks. He has a personal problem that makes it impossible to do that job. There's isn't anything inherent in the priesthood that makes one become a [sexual] abuser."
Apuzzo expects that some of the allegations are false and some are true. And, he notes, adults are coming forward and identifying priests who have died as sexual abusers. It' s not likely the crisis will subside soon. People's perceptions of priests and the hierarchy of the Catholic Church have been placed under the microscope.
"Some of our Brothers messed it up and it's a call to priests to say 'no more'. It's not right for priests to think 'I can't ever pat a kid on the head,'" says Apuzzo. It would seem his concern would be universal. It isn't, yet. That could change when U.S. Catholic Bishops meet in Texas next month. For now Apuzzo takes his stand personally, professionally. "I don't share the embarrassment of walking around with my collar on," Appuzo says. "For God's sake, I think, you better put that collar on. This is not a time to hide." S