Erie Diocese Criticized for Handling of Scandal

By Ed Palattella
Erie Times-News [Erie PA]
Downloaded July 6, 2003

A large majority of respondents to two Erie Times-News reader polls said the Catholic Diocese of Erie has failed to restore trust in the church.

More than 80 percent of the respondents in each poll were critical of the diocese's handling of the clergy sexual-abuse scandal.

Readers telephoned their comments in one poll and voted online in the other.

Many critical callers in the phone poll said Erie Catholic Bishop Donald W. Trautman should release the names of priests he has removed from ministry over allegations of sexual abuse of children. Other callers expressed dismay that abusive priests have avoided criminal prosecution because the statute of limitations has expired.

"These priests, their names need to be publicized, the same as any other criminal in our society," caller Rosalie Struble said.

Those respondents in the minority were equally vigorous in their defense of the church. One caller criticized people who said priests molested them when they were young.

"These people have an ax to grind," caller Patti Vehec said. "They need to get a life. They need to do what God tells us to do forgive.

"Their lives are being eaten up by this, and they are never going to be able to mature, go on, until the day they die."

The Erie Times-News sought responses in both polls as part of a series of stories a week ago about the clergy sexual-abuse scandal. The newspaper examined what the Catholic Diocese of Erie has done in response to the scandal.

The phone poll asked, "Has the Catholic Diocese of Erie taken the appropriate steps to restore trust in the church?" The online poll, done through, the Web site of the Erie Times-News, asked, "Has the Catholic Diocese of Erie restored trust in the church?" The methodology for both polls was not scientific.

The telephone poll yielded 45 responses in which the callers gave intelligible answers. Of those 45 callers, 37, or 82.2 percent, said the Erie diocese has not taken the appropriate steps to restore trust in the church. Another eight callers, or 17.7 percent, said the diocese has taken the appropriate steps.

The online poll yielded 565 responses as of Saturday afternoon. A total of 459 respondents, or 81.2 percent, said they believe the Erie diocese has failed to restore trust in the church. Another 106 respondents, or 18.8 percent, said they believe the diocese has restored trust.

One caller in the phone poll, Barbara Munro, said she was upset that the diocese failed to voluntarily release information about abusive priests.

"The Erie diocese has been forced to bring forth this information. I am disappointed in this," Munro said.

Other callers said the scandal has led them to stop giving money to the church. They said the diocese must disclose more information to satisfy them.

Caller Rosemary Nelson said she "is absolutely very discouraged" by the priest scandal.

"We are asked to forgive these priests, which I understand, forgiveness," Nelson said. "But at the same time, the Catholics, which I am, will not forgive us who have been divorced. We are considered second-rate citizens of the Catholic Church. This is what I don't understand. They can ask us to forgive such a heinous thing with priests and children, but they can't forgive the divorced Catholic."

The callers who defended the diocese included Joe Iesue, a cantor at St. George Catholic Church. He said the news media failed to report on similar child-abuse problems among other professions.

The officials of the Catholic Church "have done everything that they can do," Iesue said. "It is the duty of the Catholic Church to make sure that the priests are taken care of. They haven't let it go. They have done their duty to society and the Catholic faith."

One of the most spirited defenses came from a caller who identified himself as a Catholic priest. He did not leave his name.

The caller criticized the Erie Times-News coverage of the scandal, and claimed the newspaper lacks editorial columnists who understand "the Catholic intellectual tradition." The priest twice said the Times-News is engaging in "vicious bigotry."

"I and fellow priests are tired of the nonsense," the caller said. "Ninety-nine percent of us, 98, haven't done anything wrong, and we are not getting any coverage at all. For God's sake, this is ridiculous. And you know it."

ED PALATTELLA can be reached at 870-1813 or by e-mail.


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