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A Belief So Deep, Priest Scandals Can't Shake It

Religion: Catholics like Maria Lopez don't lose faith. She says God does too much for her.


Even after the Roman Catholic Church's clergy sex scandal hit home, even when her own parish priest was accused of molestation last month, Maria Lopez never doubted her faith.

How could she? Her entire life, she says, has been one long answered prayer.

Lopez, a 35-year-old electronics company supervisor in Azusa, says God has calmed her troubled marriage, miraculously provided every time her cash ran short, even sent an angel disguised as a woman to talk her out of suicide.

Her church friends, as dear to her as her own mother, have prayed with her through her illnesses, fed her family and cared for her children. On Saturday, she marched with them and 3,000 others through downtown Los Angeles in support of their faith. After Mass on Sunday, she gathered with a dozen others, clasping hands and offering fervent prayers for her church, the priests and all abuse victims.

The priests in her life have baptized her four children, blessed her home and counseled her through depression. Her own pastor, Father David Granadino of St. Frances of Rome in Azusa, is under investigation on allegations that he molested boys, but Lopez and her children say they know only his goodness.

Lopez's life offers a glimpse into why the Catholic Church's spiraling crisis is not likely to drive many devout Catholics away from their spiritual touchstone. Her faith, she says, is not rooted in a hierarchy of men, but in the redeeming and nourishing power of Jesus' love. In the rhythms of weekly Mass, in the deep friendships forged, her faith is her life and her church is her family.

"Our faith is based on God and the resurrection of Jesus Christ and not on a priest," Lopez says. "Everybody is human; everybody falls at one time or another. As Christians, we should forgive. I am not someone to judge others."

Lopez, a Mexico native, shares her testimony with an effervescent smile and a rapid, passionate stream of words. In hours of conversation about her faith, she never once mentioned Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, Pope John Paul II or issues of dogma until asked about them.

Women's ordination? Married priests?

"I never think about those things, to be honest," Lopez says.

What informs her faith is apparent the minute you approach her four-bedroom, blue stucco home near the end of an Azusa cul-de-sac. Her front door is flanked by a prominent statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Inside her immaculately kept home, every room resembles a shrine, with statues of angels and doves, religious art and prayers mounted over doorways.

Lopez's husband, Jorge, usually attends Mass on Friday mornings because his job as chef at a Glendale country club keeps him busy the rest of the week. Two of their children attend St. Frances school. Three of them won "altar servers of the year" last year and have honorary plaques and pictures of a church-sponsored Disneyland trip to show for it.

All of the children have faith testimonies too, though these must be prodded out of them by their beaming mother.

Jorge, 14, shyly noted that God had helped him boost his grades enough this year to finally realize his dream of playing on the school and city baseball teams. Anabely, 12, remembers the time she prayed the rosary and subsequently aced an exam. Fernando, 11, says God helped heal his grandfather, mother and cousins during times of illness.

Christian, 8, has no particular testimony, but volunteers that he was sad because he couldn't make his first confession in March with Granadino, who has been removed from duty by the Los Angeles archdiocese pending results of the investigation. Church officials say the priest has "forcefully" denied the allegations.

"He's the best priest, because he has the same [flattop] hair as mine," Christian says.

The three oldest children, along with their parents, were interviewed by a Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy during Holy Week, says Lopez. They say the deputy asked the children how they liked being altar servers, whether they had ever heard of any problems involving Granadino or other priests.

Anabely says she reported two problems--one priest, not Granadino, once yelled at an altar server for failing to set up the chalice properly; another church official once kept a server after Mass until she learned to correct the mistake she had made during service.

But the Lopez family says that Father David, as they call him, had never hurt them, had always made them happy with jokes, compliments and a perennial smile. He asked about their classes, brought in pizza for the altar server meetings and arranged the Disneyland trips. Last June, he came by to bless the new family pool--another gift from God, Lopez says, made possible by a home refinance that dropped their monthly mortgage payments by $400.

Anabely says Father David always gave homilies that even children could understand. She remembers the time he talked about how his tough Air Force experiences had taught him not to complain and to be grateful for what he had.

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