Pennsylvania Bishops Respond to Scathing Grand Jury Report
The report claims to have identified more than 1,000 victims of 300 credibly accused priests and presents a devastating portrait of efforts by Church authorities to, ignore, obscure or cover up allegations.
PITTSBURGH — Following the Aug. 14 release of a Pennsylvania grand jury report on sexual abuse allegations in six Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania, the Dioceses of Allentown, Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh and Scranton released separate statements acknowledging failures to protect children, and pledging to make amends.
Bishop Ronald Gainer of Harrisburg said in a statement that he was “saddened” by the report, “for once again we read that innocent children were the victims of horrific acts committed against them.”
Bishop Gainer also apologized again to the survivors of child sex abuse and to the public, both for past abuses and for the Church officials who allowed the abuse to occur.
Harrisburg’s bishop also sought to reassure the faithful that policies had changed to ensure a safer environment, and that “there is nothing we take more seriously than the protection of those who walk through our doors. [...] The safety and well-being of our children is too important not to take immediate and definitive action.”
Bishop Joseph Bambera of Scranton released a seven-minute video in response to the grand jury report’s findings.
“While this is an uncomfortable and unsettling topic, we must speak openly and frankly about it,” said Bishop Bambera. “I offer my deepest apologies for such behavior and for the consequences of this tragic reality in our Church.”
Bishop Bambera described the incidents in the report as a “dark chapter” in the 150-year history of the diocese.
“You have a right to be angry,” he said. “I am angry too,” noting that it was “particularly abhorrent” that abuse is alleged to have occurred in a Church environment. Bishop Bambera also outlined the steps his diocese has taken to protect children, including background checks and abuse training.
Bishop Lawrence Persico of Erie, who was the only bishop singled out for praise by the Pennsylvania attorney general, offered in a statement in an apology to the victims of abuse, saying they suffered from “unimaginably cruel behavior” for which they bore no responsibility.
Bishop Persico praised abuse survivors for having the courage to come forward with their stories, while he also acknowledged that there are others who have not yet shared their experiences.
“I humbly offer my sincere apology to each victim who has been violated by anyone affiliated with the Catholic Church. I hope that you can accept it,” said Bishop Persico. “I know that apologizing is only one step in a very long and complex process of healing.”
Bishop Persico instructed churches within his diocese to be open for a 12-hour period Sept. 15, the feast of Our Mother of Sorrows. He pledged to stand with the victims of abuse, and said that he was willing to meet with any survivor who wished to do so.
Bishop Alfred Schlert of Allentown issued an apology “for the past sins and crimes committed by some members of the clergy,” as well as “to the survivors of abuse and their loved ones,” and then to the entire diocese, for any doubts or anger the crisis has wrought.
“For the times when those in the Church did not live up to Christ’s call to holiness, and did not do what needed to be done, I apologize,” he said.
He reiterated that his “first priority” as a bishop was the protection of children.
“To those women and men and all those they have spoken for: We hear you. The Church hears you. I hear you,” said Bishop David Zubik of Pittsburgh in a statement after the report’s release.
Bishop Zubik also apologized to victims of clerical abuse, as well as to “any person or family whose trust, faith and well-being has been devastated by men who were ordained to be the image of Christ.” He also said he is willing to meet with any victim to apologize in person.
Bishop Zubik emphasized that “Diocese of Pittsburgh today is not the Church that is described in the grand jury Report,” and that “It has not been for a long time.” Data provided by the diocese showed that over 90 percent of abuse incidents occurred prior to 1990, and Zubik explained the steps the diocese has taken to prevent abuse.
Bishop Edward Malesic of Greensburg released a video homily that will be shown at each Mass in the diocese this coming weekend. In it, Bishop Malesic apologized to the victims, who were “robbed of their childhoods” by the abuse, noting that some had been “robbed of their faith” as well.
The behavior in the report “cannot be accepted,” he said, and “it is a cause of shame for us.”
Bishop Malesic stated he was “truly proud of the victims who came forward to tell their story,” and encouraged others to come forward as well, and for the faithful to be vigilant in reporting suspected abuse.
“To the survivors of sexual abuse in the Church [...] I grieve for you, and I grieve with you,” he said.
In a statement released by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, USCCB president Cardinal DiNardo and Bishop Timothy Doherty, the chairman of the bishops’ Committee for the Protection of Children and Young People, expressed “shame” at the report’s conclusions.
“As a body of bishops, we are shamed by and sorry for the sins and omissions by Catholic priests and Catholic bishops. … We pray that all survivors of sexual abuse find healing, comfort and strength in God’s loving presence as the Church pledges to continue to restore trust through accompaniment, communion, accountability and justice.”
The report claims to have identified more than 1,000 victims of 300 credibly accused priests and presents a devastating portrait of efforts by Church authorities to, ignore, obscure or cover up allegations — either to protect accused priests or to spare the Church scandal.