Local pastors react to grand jury presentment

By Mike Tony
March 7, 2016

Local priests in the Greensburg and Pittsburgh Catholic Dioceses were shocked by Tuesday’s grand jury presentment outlining child sexual abuse in the neighboring Altoona-Johnstown Diocese spanning some 60 years.

“As Bishop (David) Zubik (of the Pittsburgh Catholic Diocese) said, this is a devastating time for the church, and we’re definitely sorry for the hurt that’s been caused,” said the Rev. Pierre Falkenhan, pastor of Our Lady of the Valley Catholic Parish in Donora.

The Rev. Bill Berkey, pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Parish, Western Fayette County, said his parishioners in Masontown and New Salem will be reassured that the parish has done all necessary child protective clearances of church clergy, staff and volunteers. Clergy and volunteers in the Diocese of Greensburg, which includes parishes throughout Fayette, Westmoreland, Armstrong and Indiana counties, are required to have criminal background checks and child abuse clearances.

“I think we’re all shocked by it. It’s disheartening,” said the Rev. Vince Gigliotti, pastor of St. Anne Parish in Belle Vernon.

Neither Berkey nor the Rev. Wiliam Terza, pastor of St. Damien of Molokai in Monongahela, said they believed that their parishioners would have a crisis of faith or confidence in the church because of the grand jury presentment.

“I have not had anyone come up to me and make a comment about it,” Terza said. “I’m sure everyone is going to think, ponder, question.”

“It’s important at Mass that we pray for the victims of abuse,” Berkey said.

Falkenhan said the church should pay for psychological counseling for the victims.

“It’s not just, ‘Okay, God bless you, we’ll keep you in our prayers,’” Falkenhan said.

News of the grand jury presentment was featured on the front page of the Pittsburgh Catholic, the official newspaper of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, Falkenhan added.

“We’re not burying it, either,” Falkenhan said.

Berkey said that while eating at a Greensburg restaurant Thursday night, he overheard a nearby table of four say that all priests are child sexual abusers.

“It’s a difficult day to be a priest,” Berkey said. “You gotta keep the faith and do your best. I think it’s just the actions of a few putting a dark light on many.”

Priests in the area are confident and hopeful that their parishioners will similarly keep the faith in their churches’ strict adherence to child protective policies.

“You pray a little differently,” Berkey said in response to the grand jury presentment. “I think a priest has to be more alert now to what’s going on in their environment. Priesthood has changed in that area.”



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