Scranton Family Not Satisfied with Atonement for Betrayal

By Roja Heydarpour
The Times-Tribune
July 13, 2008

[with links to documents]

It was a cool, fall afternoon in 2006 when a family of three entered the Diocese of Scranton's chancery in search of answers, and maybe some comfort.

The son recently had told his mother the priest they trusted and invited into their lives had sexually abused him as a young boy. The family went to the bishop for help, just as they had turned in past times of need to their church, SS. Peter and Paul in West Scranton, and their priest, the Rev. Edward J. Shoback.

This time, their trusted sanctuary was the source of betrayal.

They waited anxiously for about an hour to meet with the Most Rev. John M. Dougherty, but instead received a phone call. The auxiliary bishop had been delayed and would meet them later that evening.

Harboring the largest confession of their lives, the family left the chancery into what they later described as a vague, tunnel-like day.

"I still had my faith in that first meeting, but after the second meeting, my faith was gone," the mother said, alternating between tears of sorrow and tears of rage.

The Times-Tribune does not identify victims of sexual abuse. Diocesan officials refused repeated requests for comment after an initial interview about its counseling program. The Rev. Shoback only said, "Why don't you people leave me alone?"

That night in October 2006, Bishop Dougherty listened to the boy's tale, offered the family compassion, spiritual counseling and a meeting with the diocese's victim-assistance coordinator, Joan L. Holmes.

"We started this very naive," said the son's wife. "We were like, we're going to go to the church and he (the Rev. Shoback) is going to go to jail."

This family's case was referred to Assistant District Attorney Gene Talerico on Nov. 3, 2006, days after the initial meeting with Bishop Dougherty. But Pennsylvania's statute of limitations prevented a criminal prosecution.

The Rev. Shoback, now 66, was removed from the ministry in 2004 after admitting to abusing a minor decades earlier in Luzerne County. The statute of limitations had expired in that case as well. Now the Rev. Shoback lives privately on Chapel Street in Pittston, where he has been spotted getting ice cream at Jitty Joe's, said the family.

When he was removed from the ministry, the family recalls church officials telling the parish that he had never molested anyone at SS. Peter and Paul.

"When they took him out of the parish and told everybody that he did not victimize anyone in the parish, I was one of his supporters," said the mother, who was heavily involved with the church. "It sent the message, 'Don't look, nothing happened here.' "

So she tried to forgive her priest, and her friend, and continued to reach out to him.

That was not the case for the son. Years of friendship with the Rev. Shoback were immediately severed. The mother prodded her son, asking why he was turning his back on a man whom they described as a "rock" for their family.

There would be no more "Gentle Are His Ways" cards written in fountain-pen ink and filled with chat about the weather. No more weekly phone calls.

The breaking point for the son came when he saw a picture of the Rev. Shoback in his mother's kitchen, holding his infant niece. His eyes widen at the photograph still as he remembers becoming enraged at the thought of the priest touching his niece.

"I took this picture at my house, and I showed my son and (later) he went ballistic," the mother said. "I didn't know that I had brought him into my house after what he did to my son."

The family slowly moved from ignorance to shock and betrayal and finally toward anger and a need for accountability.

The church told them that the Rev. Shoback admitted to the abuse when approached, but the family has not been given the written report.

"There is still an enormous cloud of secrecy," said Daniel Brier, the family's attorney.

Instead, after letter writing and haggling, the son receives a check for $380 every month out of the Rev. Shoback's pension to compensate for more than $13,000 in lost wages. The son said he was crippled by anxiety and unable to go to work every day.

"Four years of receiving the check from the church every month — just a little reminder," said the son's wife.

A notification was also printed in SS. Peter and Paul Church newsletter on March 18, 2007, about the revelations.

"It has been reported that Edward Shoback, who was assigned to Saints Peter and Paul parish in the past, has admitted to the abuse of a minor when assigned here," it read. "If there is anyone claiming to have been abused by this priest, the individual should come forward and make it known."

Parishioners were directed to Ms. Holmes or James B. Earley, the chancellor.

But the family felt the meetings with Ms. Holmes, and also the bishop and chancellor, were nothing more than fact-gathering sessions for the diocese.

"We didn't even get any pamphlets," the son said. "They're doing just enough to appease us."

As part of the program, the church pays for the victim's therapy sessions. But the family says no one even informed them when the church started paying the bill.

"If the church believes in what it says, then why don't they atone?" asked the trembling mother. "I'm expected to go into confession and tell all my sins. I'm just saying the hypocrisy of the whole thing. They don't have to atone for anything. That's not the religion I grew up believing. That's not the religion that was taught to me. They hold the lay people accountable and they don't follow the same rules."

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