At the end of November 2013, my fellow parishioners and myself at Blessed Mother Parish were told that Father John Meredith (our priest) was on medical leave and would be gone for some time. A couple of weeks ago, it was revealed that he was suffering from mental anxiety. No further specifics were given.
Then on New Year’s Eve, everyone received a bombshell- Father John Meredith had been accused of inappropriate conduct with a minor. The Diocese has looked into the allegations, as well as the Owensboro Police Department. In the meantime, Father John Meredith has been temporarily suspended.
This is just one of many cases of alleged sexual abuse by a Catholic priest which have sprung up for over a decade. But what makes this case significant (other than it being at the church which I attend) is an incident that occurred almost three years ago.
On February 3, 2011, 23 year-old David Jarboe Jr. arrived at Blessed Mother Parish. He went up to a statue of the Virgin Mary located outside the parish hall and shot himself. He was pronounced dead at the local hospital. Prior to committing suicide, he posted messages on Facebook suggesting that he might have been sexual abused by members of the clergy. The posting mentioned three priests, one of which was Father Freddie Byrd (Father John’s predecessor at Blessed Mother). An investigation was launched, but could not find any hard evidence (because there was no specific information to prove that any sexual abuse occurred). Thus, the case was closed.
During the course of the investigation, the Westboro Baptist Church decided to pay a visit to Blessed Mother Parish. In March 2011, WBC protesters stood across the street from the church during the 10 AM mass. I talked to one of my fellow Tea Party members about having a counter-demonstration (or at least playing the role of a watchdog) but decided otherwise, since the WBC was looking to provoke an incident and therefore sue someone. In addition, Father John had asked parishioners to ignore the WBC protesters.
It is unclear whether Father John Meredith is guilty of such allegations. There are probably those who still speculate if the allegations made by David Jarboe, Jr. before he committed suicide were true.
Meanwhile, two particular questions come to mind. My first question revolves around the possibility of the Westboro Baptist Church showing up again at Blessed Mother to protest. The other question is this: although the Catholic Church has had its share of sexual abuse cases, other denominations have experienced the same problem. So why is the Catholic Church receiving more attention? Is it an attempt to discredit the church?
But amidst the allegations and controversy, prayers will be said for both the accuser and the accused. Justice will prevail, nor should anyone’s faith be shaken. As the interim priest said last week: “this too shall pass.”
I will try to provide updates on the course of the investigation when they become available.
Image: Courtesy of: http://www.flickr.com/photos/theodorescott/3599003775/