|Bishop Says Diocese Is Taking Action to Prevent Abuse
By Charita Goshay
June 30, 2009
YOUNGSTOWN — Bishop George V. Murry got the kind of phone call every shepherd dreads: One of his priests had been accused of sexual immorality.
Shortly afterward on May 22, Murry removed Thomas Crum from the pulpit at Our Lady of Peace Church in Canton. Crum admitted engaging in inappropriate behavior with a student more than 30 years ago while at Cardinal Mooney High School in Youngstown.
In the weeks hence, the head of the Catholic Diocese of Youngstown has been on a quest to ensure that such an incident doesn’t happen again. He vows to keep parishioners apprised of what the diocese is doing about it, and encourages anyone who has been victimized to contact his office.
“It was like the bottom of my stomach fell out; it was horrible,” Murry said. “A priest is a person who is trusted by people. One of things that attracted me to the priesthood was the men (serving) in my hometown parish in New Jersey. My friends and I would tell things to the priest that I wouldn’t say to my best friend because I knew I could trust that man. When that deep level of trust is disparaged or abused, that hurts a person.”
Since Crum’s resignation, three more victims from that time span have come forward. Murry said he has spoken to two of them.
“Listening to what these people have gone through and how that trust was destroyed was extremely painful,” he said. “I love the priesthood.”
Studies show that less than 4 percent of Catholic priests have engaged inappropriate behavior, a percentage comparable to and in some cases less than other professions. But Murry noted that even at 4 percent, “You have to take action.”
In 2008, the diocese revised its “Child Protection Policy,” which requires training, fingerprinting and criminal background checks for all diocesan employees and volunteers, as well as abuse-prevention education for children. The diocesan policy was introduced in 1994, eight years before the U.S Conference of Catholic Bishops published a national policy.
“I don’t think we talk enough about the issue of child abuse in our society,” Murry said. “This is an opportunity to say what we’re doing to protect our children.”
Murry said Crum is undergoing psychiatric treatment and is being monitored around the clock at an undisclosed facility in the U.S. The diocese is sending documentation to the Vatican, which will decide whether Crum — who cannot serve as a priest — will be permitted to retire or is ousted.
“It’s still an ongoing investigation,” Murry said. “I don’t feel we have all the facts yet. As we uncover more, I’m begging people to come forward. It’s the only way to help them heal.”
Murry added that to his knowledge, no civil suits have been filed against the diocese. The statute of limitations for criminal charges has expired.
Last week, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, called on Murry to host a town hall meeting, visit every parish where Crum served, and to send out more explicit letters to parishioners.
“We have been extremely proactive in this,” Murry said. “As soon as I became aware, I removed Father Crum from ministry; there was no hesitation about that. The civil and legal authorities became immediately notified. I also sent a letter to Our Lady of Peace the weekend after Father Crum was removed from ministry, so we’re talking a matter of days. I sent letters to every parish where he served. From responses I’ve gotten from people, they clearly understood what I was saying.”
While in Canton recently, Murry spoke with some OLOP parishioners.
“It’s been a real trauma for them,” he said. “I told them as soon as my schedule allows, I will celebrate Mass and talk individually with anyone who wants to have a conversation.”
Murry said letters also were sent to every student the diocese could locate who attended Cardinal Mooney during Crum’s tenure.
“My concern at this point is for the victims,” he said, declining to identify them. “Those that have come to me have asked that their identity be protected. Some still have relatives who are alive. I have a moral obligation to protect their identity. Along with that, I’m trying to do everything I can to help them heal.”
Murry said the diocese has offered to provide therapy for the victims, adding it was declined.
In the years since the Catholic Church’s initial abuse scandal, Murry said the Vatican has instituted safeguards to screen out potential abusers.
“Unfortunately, many people involved in this behavior are remarkably devious,” he said. “They put time and energy into hiding this type of behavior.”
Seminarians now undergo a battery of psychological and psychiatric tests and evaluations.
Murry said that once a man becomes a priest, other priests, teachers and religious-education are directed to spot any inappropriate behavior. By law, all such incidents must be reported.
“We’ve been compiling information and handling it transparently,” Murry said. “Very honestly, I am committed to continuing to do that. People have the right to information; they have a right to be aware ... . I’m very sorry this happened. We have taken steps to ensure this will not happen again.
“Thirdly, I stand with the people of the diocese in their disappointment and pain, and will do everything possible to heal that pain.”
The diocese encourages anyone who has experienced abuse at the hand of a church employee or official to contact the diocesan victims' assistance coordinator at (330) 744-8451, and to notify authorities.
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