Dioceses more responsive to Catholic Church sex abuse scandals

By Jason Cato
March 05, 2016

Decades of silence by the Roman Catholic Church regarding child sexual abuse by priests has given way to an era of atonement, as public apologies and condemnation come from local dioceses up to the Vatican.

But that isn't enough for some. The church needs to name priests suspected of abuse, like those outed last week in a 147-page grand jury report about the Altoona-Johnstown diocese, so more go to prison, said David Clohessy, national director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

“More words, clearer words, sadder words — it's all words, and words protect no one. Decisive actions protect kids,” said Clohessy, expressing a desire for local dioceses to post online the names of priests accused of sexually abusing children. “They often are fixated on PR, policies, panels and protocols that look terrific on paper but essentially are worthless.

“Sincerity must be judged by actions, not words.”

Leaders of the Catholic Church in Pittsburgh and Greensburg said they are committed to stopping sexual abuse and righting decades of wrongs.

“I would hope in every diocese we realize we can never do enough to keep this horror from occurring,” said Pittsburgh Bishop David Zubik, who will host a special “Service of Apology” March 21 in St. Paul Cathedral in Oakland.

He said the Mass is not related to the allegations of abuse in Altoona-Johnstown, which Attorney General Kathleen Kane made public in the same week that “Spotlight,” a movie about The Boston Globe's investigative reporting into decades of abuse there, won the Academy Award for best film. A Somerset County priest was sentenced last week to nearly 17 years in prison for molesting orphans during mission trips to Central America.

All U.S. dioceses in 2002 adopted zero-tolerance policies for dealing with suspected sexual abuse, though the Greensburg Diocese's policy dates to 1985 and Pittsburgh's to 1988.

Edward Malesic, who last year became bishop in Greensburg, said the church has to remain watchful for cases of abuse and clerical perpetrators.

“This has been a terrible issue for the church for many years,” Malesic said. “It's extremely important that the church be vigilant and make sure children are safe.”

That includes conducting background checks on everyone who works for or volunteers with the diocese and reporting every case of suspected child abuse to authorities, he said.

“I can't change the past, and I can't change what happened in Altoona-Johnstown,” Malesic said. “But I can be strong here in Greensburg.”

Messages left with the Altoona-Johnstown Catholic Diocese were not returned. In a statement, Bishop Mark Bartchak noted the diocese cooperated with authorities and is reviewing the grand jury's report, which ended an investigation that lasted nearly two years.

“I deeply regret any harm that has come to children, and I urge the faithful to join me in praying for all victims of abuse,” said Bartchak, who committed to posting on the diocese's website the names and current status of every priest in the diocese accused of abuse.

Philadelphia is the only other diocese in Pennsylvania to have posted such a list, according to The website lists 42 cases of abuse involving priests from the Pittsburgh diocese and six from Greensburg.

The National Catholic Reporter revealed last year that U.S. Catholic churches had paid nearly $4 billion to settle decades of lawsuits. In 2014, the Vatican reported that during the previous decade it defrocked about 850 priests who raped or molested children and sanctioned 2,500 worldwide.

Officials with the Vatican and U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, D.C., could not be reached.

Kane announced Tuesday that the grand jury found that at least 50 priests in Altoona-Johnstown abused hundreds of children at orphanages, foster homes, campsites, confessionals and the cathedral in Altoona from the 1940s to 1980s.

No criminal charges will be filed because the statute of limitations on such crimes has expired, suspected priests have died, and some victims are reluctant to testify, Kane said.

On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Kim R. Gibson of Johnstown sentenced the Rev. Joseph D. Maurizio Jr., 70, of Central City to prison for engaging or attempting to engage in illicit sexual conduct in foreign places; possession of child pornography; and money laundering.

Prosecutors, who sought 27 years' imprisonment, said the priest traveled to an orphanage in Honduras between 1999 and 2009 and promised cash and candy to boys who allowed him to watch them shower or have sexual contact with them.

Maurizio plans to appeal, his attorney said.

Zubik said he scheduled his apology Mass before the grand jury report and sentencing of Maurizio. It will be the second such Mass he has hosted in Pittsburgh, the other being in 2009. He first hosted a “Service of Apology” in 2006 while bishop in Green Bay, Wis.

The services address several ways people could have been victimized by the church, including sexual abuse. An apology from the church is healing for some but pulls off a scab for others, Zubik said.

“But forgiveness is that way. Saying you're sorry does that,” he said. “It highlights that even though the church is divine, we are all certainly human.”

Pope Francis apologized to five victims of sexual abuse — both those abused by clergy and by others, such as family members — during his visit to Philadelphia in September.

His predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, publicly apologized for clergy sex abuse in 2008 and 2010. Pope John Paul II in 2000 said a special Mass in Rome to ask God's forgiveness for the sins of Catholics — though he did not specifically mention sexual abuse by priests.

Zubik said John Paul's public atonement inspired him to conduct similar services later. The one this month is in response to the church's Jubilee Year of Mercy, he said.

“It's a moment of grace,” Zubik said.

Clohessy called apologies discouraging rather than hopeful signs of real change.

“This is just more shrewd PR,” he said. “You apologize after a threatening harm is over. Church officials know full well this crisis is a continuing crisis.”



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