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A 'Light in the Darkness'

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By Marc Massery (Nov 25, 2018)
The following was first published in the Winter 2018-19 issue of Marian Helper magazine. View the digital edition or order a free copy:

Whether it was an invitation to a birthday party, movie night, game night, or to enjoy a home-cooked meal, the Schlueters always made their priests at St. George Church in Erie, Pennsylvania, part of their family.

"That was always normal to me," said Annie Schlueter, a Marian Helper who is currently a junior at Ave Maria University in Ave Maria, Florida. "[My parents] have always been passionate about allowing priests to come and experience our family. They were always providing a place for priests to just rest,"

So Annie said that the news that broke this summer about the Pennsylvania grand jury report hit close to home. The 1,400-page report investigated six dioceses in the commonwealth, including the Diocese of Erie where Annie grew up. It named 300 priests who allegedly abused more than 1,000 victims. Nearly all of those allegations stem from the decades preceding 2002. That's when the U.S. bishops adopted a zero-tolerance approach in the wake of allegations of widespread sexual abuse by priests in Boston and elsewhere.

"I am familiar with a lot of the names that were [in the report]. I didn't know any of them, but I know people who know them," Annie said.

The report stated that many crimes committed by priests had been swept under the rug by Church leadership. Some of the names caught parishioners by surprise.

"[Since my family is] involved in ministry, this is not something we [could] just turn a blind eye to," Annie said. Her parents, who have since moved to Toledo, Ohio, work full-time running their own Catholic non-profit called Mass Impact, which provides resources to help form families to talk about the faith and pray with their children.

Annie also serves in a leadership role for the campus ministry at her school.

Just before the news broke nationwide, Annie was visiting her extended family in Erie. "Everyone [in the diocese] knew it was coming," she said. "But the priests were handling it so beautifully [in their homilies]. Bishop Lawrence Persico of Erie, his whole big thing had been [that] we need to give victims a voice. That's what I was hearing from these priests when I was back home. They said we're going to get through this together and that we need to be praying and supporting our priests. ... I think a lot more people had a reason to stay because of that."

Annie's been trying to balance remaining informed about the news with grieving and staying rooted in her faith. "I definitely wrestled with it a lot this summer," she said. "I am just so saddened, and I feel like I can't trust people I should be able to trust."

But instead of letting her grief get the best of her, Annie helped organize a "reparation week" on campus, which encouraged students to pray for the victims of sexual abuse in the Church, the perpetrators, and the people who covered it up. "It was so beautiful because we had this full chapel of young adults who were just crying out to the Lord and just begging for the Lord's mercy," she said. "Seeing young adults around me step up and become leaders in the face of all this and choose to stay and choose to lead, choose to worship in so much darkness — it's already bringing so much light, and it's just really beautiful.

"I have been so impressed by the people who are down here who are willing to talk about it," she said. "I'm seeing so much revival because there's just a light that's being brought into the darkness."

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