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EDITORIAL: Incoming bishop has traits needed to inspire change

The Rev. Peter Christensen faces a delicate challenge as successor to Catholic Diocese of Superior Bishop Raphael Fliss. Besides a flock wounded by decades of sexual abuse by clergy, he inherits related lawsuits that distract from the church mission.

The Rev. Peter Christensen faces a delicate challenge as successor to Catholic Diocese of Superior Bishop Raphael Fliss. Besides a flock wounded by decades of sexual abuse by clergy, he inherits related lawsuits that distract from the church mission.

Fliss has struggled while trying to address inappropriate clergy conduct. Like other church and non-church leaders nationwide, he gained authority during an era of denial about sexual abuse. It largely was swept under the rug. When it surfaced, he acted decisively at times but also stumbled -- not only in his unwillingness to publicly address the issue but by leading a healing process that was perceived as inadequate.

He wasn't alone. Sexual abuse is a problem that many group leaders, church and otherwise, would rather avoid, even today. Earlier this year when The Telegram sought information about past sexual abuse by local priests, District Attorney Dan Blank didn't return numerous calls. Even though Blank originally was elected on a strong platform of addressing domestic abuse, he is strangely quiet when the situation involves abuse by clergy within his own faith.

If Christensen's early remarks are any indication, he seems prepared to address the problem in an enlightened way. While visiting Superior on Thursday, he said the church should more closely evaluate seminarians. That's an important step to prevent people like the Rev. Ryan Erickson from entering the priesthood. Erickson, who was suspected of committing sexual abuse, is believed to have killed two Hudson men in a cover-up. He later took his own life.

The incoming bishop also expressed a desire to help both the perpetrator and the victim in abuse situations. That's a lofty but admirable goal.

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Most telling, however, were his comments about families of the murdered Hudson men. He not only expressed sympathy, but acknowledged the betrayal they most certainly feel.

He appears inspired to do good work for the Catholic church that, in turn, will benefit the larger community.

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