Greensburg Diocese Names Advisory Panel, Grand Jury Recommendation Stalls in Senate
By Deb Erdley
October 17, 2018
Fallout from the August grand jury report that detailed rampant clergy sexual abuse and cover-ups in six Catholic dioceses across Pennsylvania continued Wednesday as the Catholic Diocese of Greensburg announced the formation of a new advisory council for the protection of children, and officials in Harrisburg debated one of the grand jury’s more controversial recommendations.
Bishop Edward Malesic of the Greensburg diocese said a retired state trooper, a lawyer, a college student, a clinical psychologist and abuse survivor are among the individuals who will serve on a lay advisory council the diocese formed to assure the safety of children and vulnerable individuals.
Malesic said the Safe Environment Advisory Council — which will advise the church on best practices for the protection of children and issue an annual compliance report on those guidelines — consists of Catholics and non-Catholics. The panel, which includes nine individuals from the four-county diocese, will begin its work overseeing listening sessions in parishes next week.
His announcement came as abuse survivors and their advocates waged a last-minute effort to push the state Senate to vote on one of the recommendations that came out of the grand jury report, which concluded that church leaders routinely covered up allegations that 301 priests in six dioceses, including Greensburg and Pittsburgh, had abused about 1,000 children over seven decades.
The recommendation that passed the state House by an overwhelming margin earlier this fall would establish a two-year window of opportunity to allow adult survivors of child sexual abuse who were barred by the statute of limitations to sue their alleged abusers.
The proposal stalled in the state Senate, where President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati expressed doubts that such a law would pass constitutional muster and instead promoted a plan to establish a settlement fund for abuse survivors.
Attorney General Josh Shapiro said the plan doesn’t measure up and urged the Senate to take up the grand jury’s recommendation.
Shapiro said Pennsylvania’s statute of limitations, which bars lawsuits by childhood abuse survivors older than 30, left countless victims with no access to the courts and leaves the church exempt from legal action.
“Senators have a tough choice to make over the next few hours. Will they choose to stand with victims and survivors and vote ‘yes’ on the grand jury’s four recommended reforms? Or will they stand with the church, its lobbyists and the insurance industry and fail to act?” Shapiro said late Wednesday as the Senate met in its last scheduled session before the Nov. 6 election.
Back in Greensburg, Malesic emphasized that the current-day church is far more vigilant than the church that is described in decades-old allegations and is taking extra steps to ensure the safety of children.
“I have talked with survivors of clergy abuse. Their pain and anguish and their accounts of how the church failed to protect them have had a tremendous impact on me. I want to be sure we do everything possible to prevent these tragedies from happening again in our church and our communities,” Malesic said in a statement announcing the panel.
Members of the panel include Paul DeStefano, a retired state police trooper from Westmoreland County; Kristen Antolini, an attorney and parish music minister from Fayette County; Ellen Katter, a volunteer services manager from Westmoreland County; Ralph May, a clinical psychologist from Indiana County; Mary Robb Jackson, a retired TV news reporter from outside the diocese; Annie Williams, a retired parish business manager from Westmoreland County; Christina Davis, a Saint Vincent College student from Armstrong County; Michael Pry, a continuous improvement director from Westmoreland County; and Bishop Carl Jones of Greater Parkview Church in Westmoreland County.
The listening sessions, set for 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., will be held Oct. 22 at Blessed Sacrament Cathedral Parish, Greensburg; Oct. 24 at St. Therese, Little Flower of Jesus Parish, Uniontown; Oct. 29 at St. Margaret Mary Parish, Lower Burrell; Nov. 5 at St. Mary, Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish, Kittanning; Nov. 8 at Mother of Sorrows Parish, Murrysville; and Nov. 29 at St. Bernard of Clairvaux Parish, Indiana. An Oct. 31 session at Holy Family Parish, West Newton, will be held from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m.
Deb Erdley is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Deb at 412-320-7996, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @deberdley_trib.