Wuerl: In Pittsburgh, he ‘established strong policies’ on abuse claims

Washington Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl said Aug. 14 that during his tenure as bishop of Pittsburgh from 1988 to 2006, he “established strong policies that addressed the needs of abuse survivors, removed priests from ministry and protected the most vulnerable in the community.” Cardinal Wuerl is pictured in a 2010 photo. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

By Julie Asher 
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) — Washington Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl said Aug. 14 that during his tenure as bishop of Pittsburgh from 1988 to 2006, he “established strong policies that addressed the needs of abuse survivors, removed priests from ministry and protected the most vulnerable in the community.”

He said he also “traveled to Rome to challenge successfully a Vatican decision to reinstate a (Pittsburgh) priest removed from ministry as a result of substantiated child abuse claims.”

Cardinal Wuerl made the comments in response to the Pennsylvania attorney general’s release the same day of a grand jury report on a months-long investigation of abuse claims in the Pittsburgh Diocese and five other dioceses in the state — Harrisburg, Greensburg, Erie, Scranton and Allentown.

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Posted in U.S.

Pennsylvania grand jury says church was interested in hiding abuse

The Pennsylvania statehouse is seen from the State Street bridge in Harrisburg. The Pennsylvania attorney general released a grand jury report Aug. 14 on a months-long investigation into abuse claims spanning a 70-year period in the Dioceses of Harrisburg, Pittsburgh, Scranton, Allentown, Greensburg and Erie. (CNS photo/Tim Shaffer, Reuters)

Updated: 5:40 p.m.

By Rhina Guidos 
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) – A Pennsylvania grand jury report issued Aug. 14 paints a picture of a Catholic Church in six of the state’s dioceses that for decades handled claims of sex abuse of minors under its care by hiding the allegations and brushing aside its victims.

More than 300 priests were linked to abuse claims and over 1,000 victims were identified, said Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro in a news conference following the report’s release.

“The main thing was not to help children but to avoid ‘scandal,'” says a biting sentence about the behavior of church leaders and officials in the report, detailing a months-long investigation of clergy sex abuse claims in the dioceses of Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, Allentown, Scranton, Greensburg and Erie.

The report of almost 1,400 pages covers a period of 70 years into the past, including information from the early 2000s, a time when news of the clerical sex abuse scandal erupted in the U.S. Before its release, some urged that the report be read keeping in mind that a lot has changed in the church since then, and also that not all of the report’s claims are substantiated.

In the Diocese of Pittsburgh, for example, a few priests named in the report are still working there because diocesan officials could not substantiate claims of abuse made against them, Pittsburgh Bishop David A. Zubik told local reporters Aug. 10.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette newspaper reported that Bishop Zubik said: “There is no priest or deacon in an assignment today against whom there was a substantiated allegation of child sexual abuse.” He said he would explain the process to parishioners following the report’s release.

But there are many painful claims.

In the news conference, Shapiro described allegations of a priest who physically molested a group of children by telling them he was doing a “cancer check,” one who he said “impregnated” a girl, others who had boys strike a religious pose naked to take pictures of them. Shapiro spoke of a “systematic cover-up” by church officials who took information to the Vatican, who also did nothing to help victims. He also spoke of priests who “weaponized faith” and had the victims go to confession for the sins that had just been committed against them.

Some of those who testified before the grand jury were present for the release of the report. Reporter Brandie Kessler, of The York Daily Record, tweeted: “Victims and family members are being led in. I’m seeing a few people starting to cry.”

Some bishops from the six dioceses named responded almost immediately after the release.

“I read the grand jury report on child sexual abuse with great sadness, for once again we read that innocent children were the victims of horrific acts committed against them,” said Harrisburg’s Bishop Ronald. W. Gainer in a statement shortly after the document’s release. “I am saddened because I know that behind every story is a child precious in God’s sight; a child who has been wounded by the sins of those who should have known better.”

Bishop Lawrence T. Persico of Erie appeared in a news conference and took questions shortly after the report’s release, saying he wanted to address the victims and spoke of their “unimaginable pain” and suffering.

“You were betrayed by people holding themselves out as servants of God,” he said. “Each one of you has your own story with pain and grief that is unique to you I don’t know presume to know … I want to assure you that you are not responsible in any way for what happened to you.”

He said he offered “sincere apologies” for each of victims.

“Because of the report, the public will begin to understand your pain in a new way,” he said, pledging that the Diocese of Erie would not “shroud abusers in secrecy no matter who they are and how long ago it took place.”

Bishop Zubik said in a statement, “We are sorry, I am sorry. I take this report to heart. It is a story of peoples’ lives.”

“No one who has read it can be unaffected,” he said, including many who are themselves victims of child sexual abuse and its details would reopen wounds. But no doubt some would feel “betrayed” by the church, too, he added.

“Today, I again apologize 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 wrote. “Ever since I first met victims of clergy child sexual abuse in 1988, I have seen the immense pain that this crime causes to its victims, to their loved ones and to the heart of Jesus. Their words break my heart. I have cried with them and for them over the damage done to them and their families by men whose lives should have been committed to protecting their souls from harm. I dedicate myself to helping them and to doing everything possible to prevent such abuse from happening again.”

He said the report points out instances in the past when the church did not respond effectively to victims.

“Swift and firm responses to allegations should have started long before they did,” he said. “For that I express profound regret.”

The grand jury said it found in its investigation that those who claimed sexual abuse of their own or of their children by Catholic clergy or other church workers were “brushed aside,” and officials became more concerned with protecting the abusers because they wanted to protect the image of the church, the report says.

Some of those named in the report had their names redacted, or blacked out, after challenging the inclusion of their identities in it without having the legal opportunity to defend themselves. They are scheduled to have a hearing with the court in September.

Some of the dioceses involved said they would release the names of those facing “credible allegations” in the report when the document was made public and some of them did so immediately.

The Diocese of Erie added five names to its list Aug. 14 and those names were not included in the grand jury report, said Bishop Persico. Some, such as the Diocese of Harrisburg, made its list public Aug. 1, updating it Aug. 6, adding the name of an accused priest to it after receiving “additional information.”

“We again emphasize that this is a list of accusations; we did not make assessments of credibility or guilt in creating this list,” a statement from the diocese said.

Not all who are accused of sexual abuse or of covering it up in the report are priests. Some on the lists released by dioceses are deacons, some are seminarians, teachers or other church workers, and some are no longer alive. Some are accused of being in possession of child pornography, others of inappropriate touching, kissing, soliciting a child for sex, but most are listed as “sexually abusing a child.”

Following the sex abuse crisis in 2000, the U.S. bishops in 2002 approved procedures and protocols for addressing allegations of abuse. But Shapiro seemed to cast doubt that it was enough.

“They claimed to have changed their ways,” he said.

The development comes as the Catholic Church in the United States finds itself grappling with the late July resignation from the College of Cardinals of a beloved and respected retired prelate, now-Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick, 88, of Washington, following decades-old allegations that he sexually abused seminarians and at least two minors. He has been removed from public ministry, as of June 20, and is awaiting a Vatican trial.

This is a map of Pennsylvania showing the six Catholic dioceses covered by a grand jury report on an investigation of abuse claims made in those dioceses. The report covers a span of more than 70 years. (CNS/courtesy of USCCB)

Posted in U.S.

Bishops ‘shamed’ by ‘sins, omissions’ of priests, bishops leading to abuse

A photo panel shows Pennsylvania Bishops Ronald W. Gainer of Harrisburg, David A. Zubik of Pittsburgh, Joseph C. Bambera of Scranton, Alfred A. Schlert of Allentown, Edward C. Malesic of Greensburg and Lawrence T. Persico of Erie. The Pennsylvania attorney general released a grand jury report Aug. 14 on a months-long investigation into abuse claims spanning a 70-year period in the six dioceses. (CNS photo/courtesy of the dioceses)

By Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) — The U.S. bishops as “are shamed by and sorry for the sins and omissions by Catholic priests and Catholic bishops” that have led to sexual abuse and caused great harm to many, said an Aug. 14 statement from the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the chairman of its child protection committee.

“We are committed to work in determined ways so that such abuse cannot happen,” said Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, the president, and Bishop Timothy L. Doherty of Lafayette, Indiana, chairman of the Committee for the Protection of Children and Young People.

They pledged “to maintain transparency” and provide for “the permanent removal of offenders from ministry and to maintain safe environments for everyone.”

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Abuse in Ireland: Pressure mounts for pope to address scandal

Cardinal Angelo Sodano, dean of the College of Cardinals, talks with an ambassador to the Vatican as he arrives for a consistory at the Vatican June 28. Former Irish government officials allege that Cardinal Sodano asked them to protect church records and limit the financial liability of the church from abuse claims. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)


By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope Francis is traveling to Ireland specifically for the World Meeting of Families, but the sex abuse crisis is dominating headlines before his Aug. 25-26 trip.

While coverage of clerical abuse in the United States, Chile and Australia continues, Irish news media have been filled with articles about how a top Vatican official allegedly tried to get Irish government officials to support deals that would protect church records of abuse allegations and limit the financial liability of the church.

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Posted in Vatican, World

Keeping Catholic school tuition affordable requires creativity

Students at Cristo Rey New York High School listen attentively and take notes during an April 27 science class. There will be 35 Cristo Rey Catholic schools functioning nationwide at the beginning of the 2018-2019 school year, institutions that use a corporate work-study program where students are required to work in the community one day a week earning job experience and a wage that helps pay for their tuition. (CNS photo/Chaz Muth)

(Second in a five-part series)

By Chaz Muth
and Carol Zimmermann
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) — Making Catholic education accessible to everyone has been a mission of the church in the U.S. for centuries, but keeping it affordable in modern times has required innovative methods.

Religious orders and parish schools labored in the 19th century to bring education to everyone, which meant keeping it inexpensive. This could be done more easily when the majority of faculty and staff were priests or women religious and some schools were subsidized by tithing parishioners.

By the end of the 20th century, however, funding sources became scarce, the cost of education escalated, schools were staffed by the laity and tuition became almost out of reach for middle and lower-income families.

To make Catholic schools more affordable, dioceses, religious orders and individual schools are taking new steps.

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Posted in U.S., World | Tagged

Abuse letter to Cardinal O’Malley was second priest sent officials

Then-Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick attends a Mass in Rome April 13, 2018. The retired archbishop of Washington faces a canonical trial on allegations he sexually abused a minor and seminarians some years ago. Pope Francis accepted his resignation from the College of Cardinals July 28. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)





By Rhina Guidos
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) — In a June 2015 letter to Boston’s Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley obtained by Catholic News Service, a New York priest tells the prelate about “sexual abuse/harassment/intimidation” allegations he had heard concerning then-Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick and asks that if the matter doesn’t fall under his purview, to forward it to the “proper agency in the Vatican.”

The letter “has taken me years to write and send,” writes Father Boniface Ramsey, pastor of St. Joseph’s Church Yorkville in New York City, who made the letter available to CNS in early August. But it was the second time he had attempted to tell church officials in writing.

In it, he describes for Cardinal O’Malley conversations with the rector of a seminary in New Jersey about trips then-Archbishop McCarrick, as head of the Archdiocese of Newark, New Jersey, would take with seminarians to a beach house.

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Posted in U.S.

Discalced Carmelites use time-honored skills to construct new monastery

Bishop Ronald W. Gainer of Harrisburg, Pa., blesses the crucifix in the temporary chapel at the new carmel of Discalced Carmelite nuns in Fairfield, Pennsylvania July 25. The Carmelites are building a community in Fairfield to accommodate their growing numbers that have maximized their monastery in Elysburg. (CNS photo/Chris Heisey, The Catholic Witness)

By Jen Reed
Catholic News Service

FAIRFIELD, Pa. (CNS) — The grinding sounds of an excavation and construction site yielded to the intonation of a solemn pontifical Mass and prayers for the future on a vista in Fairfield July 25, where construction is underway for a second monastery for the Discalced Carmelite nuns in the Harrisburg Diocese.

A little more than two years ago — on June 13, 2016 — Mother Stella-Marie, prioress, stood at this same site gazing at the grassy and tree-lined farmland overlooking southern Adams County, and expressed her trust in the Lord that “one day we will see here a beautiful monastery that is dedicated to the glory of God.”

While the building materials for the cloistered monastery are still being prepared for construction — namely, the excavation of stone from the land on which it will stand — the early development of its farmstead can already be seen.

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Posted in U.S.