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Church letter sparks concern from some members

A letter in a recent church bulletin at St. Christopher is sparking concern from some church members.

News 4 received the letter from several people both inside and outside the Tonawanda congregation. It was also posted publicly on the parish website. 

We spoke to one congregation member on camera. He asked to remain anonymous. 

"As a gay man I found it really hurtful," he said of the letter. 

The letter, written by Father Steven Jekielek, talks about alleged clergy sex abuse.

Fr. Jekielek begins the letter with an excerpt from a 1972 homily of Pope Paul VI:

"It is as if from some mysterious crack, no, it is not mysterious, from some crack the smoke of Satan has entered the temple of God."

Citing Pope Paul VI, Jekielek references quote "cultural changes" Paul VI warned about; including contraception, abortion, living together outside of marriage, and the acceptance of homosexual relationships, among other things. 

The letter goes on to say those cultural changes, identified as evil, have seeped into the Church. 

 "I felt like he was almost condoning homophobia," the church member told News 4. 

Many members feel the pastor is misplacing blame for abuse allegations.

"Sexuality has been an issue that the Church really has been reluctant to deal with. John Paul XXIII didn't want to talk about it," said cultural anthropologist at UB, Prof. Phillips Stevens. 

Stevens noted that while sexuality is at the core of human existence, the desire to regulate it is not unique to Catholicism.

This particular letter, he said, takes a very old-school approach. 

"This is an extremely conservative view," Stevens told News 4.

Catholics have long supported conservative social values, including the concept of that marriage should only be between a man and a woman.

But that's not this church member's concern.

"Frankly the issues aren't related here. Father Jekielek decided to make them related," he said. 

"Any member of the congregation who is gay, or knows gay people, that loves a gay person, is very hurt by this letter," the church member continued. 

Jekielek condemns alleged clergy sex abuse in the letter:

"As a priest, I am sickened by these reports. And on behalf of my brother priests, I apologize profoundly for the actions of the priests who perpetrated these evil acts," he writes. 

The pastor of St. Christopher says in the letter that firstly, "we must pray for the victims." He also says "we must demand action by the bishops of the world to rid the Church of the scourge of these evil priests, deacons, and bishops."

James Faluszczak is not a member at St. Christopher. He is a former priest and also a survivor of clergy sex abuse.

Faluszczak testified for a Pennsylvania Grand Jury investigating sex abuse in several diocese, including the Buffalo Catholic Diocese. 

We asked the former clergyman how an average Catholic might interpret the letter. 

"I think there's a certain type of Catholic that would be edified by this type of language. That would say 'Oh, we're finally hearing something preached about sin and evil,' and I would certainly say that type of preaching needs to take place. But not first and foremost within the context of the phenomenon of clergy sexual abuse," Faluszczak said.

"I'm sure the father meant well, but it seems very tone deaf given the current climate within the Church generally but in Buffalo in particular," he continued. 

This anonymous church member said attendance has dropped at St. Christopher in recent years. He's worried this will stop people from feeling welcome there. 

"It's sad that we have striven so long to be a congregation that's about its people and we're losing that."

Despite this, he said he won't stop going. 

"It's a beautiful congregation. The people are really wonderful people."

News 4 reached out to the Buffalo Diocese, who had no comment for this story. 

We spoke with Fr. Jekielek over the phone. He would not speak with us on the record or allow us to quote him. 

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