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Sacred Heart University president stands in solidarity with abuse victims

August 21, 2018

FAIRFIELD — The president of Sacred Heart University’s has started an online petition standing in solidarity with victims of sexual abuse at the hands of Catholic priests.

“We stand in solidarity with Pope Francis and his letter to all God’s people condemning the atrocities of the abuse of children by priests and cover-ups by the bishops,” Petillo, himself a former priest, wrote in a petition shared with the university community on Tuesday.

Petillo said he is joining a grassroots cry for a major paradigm shift in the exercise of power by leaders in the church.

“Some have suggested that U.S. bishops should consider submitting their resignations to Pope Francis as was done in Chile,” Petillo said in his message that comes as the academic year is about to start at Sacred Heart. Students are in the process of moving back to campus which was founded by the Diocese of Bridgeport in 1963. Classes start next week.

Empowering laity to take greater leadership is central to the role of Sacred Heart, Petillo said.

In a weekly blog normally reserved for talking about campus activities, Petillo focused on recent articles that reported 1,000 children in Pennsylvania were abused by hundreds of priests over decades, while bishops colluded to cover up the crimes.

“Even if the documentation for sexual abuse was lacking until now, the abuse of power was apparently discussed openly,” Petillo wrote. He said he hopes a November meeting of American bishops will address the issue.

“The bishops are quick to voice their opinions on doctrine and justice for others. If they would try this exercise on themselves, we would all benefit from the true power of living as a faith-filled and ethical community,” Petillo said.

Petillo has been president at Sacred Heart since 2011 and on the faculty since 2009. He grew up in Newark where he entered the priesthood, leaving in 1989 after being named one of the youngest monsignor in the history of the Newark Archdiocese. He later married and has a daughter.

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