Clergy Sexual Abuse Isn't a Joke

By Kevin Masterson

November 20, 2008

I think it is important the public knows the true nature of how victims of clergy sexual abuse have been treated when they have gone to their Bishops for help. I first met Bishop Donald Trautman of the Diocese of Erie in August 1991. His first words to me were “I don’t believe you. You are lying. Even if this did happen, the statute of limitations has expired.” Shortly after that he dismissed me from his office. I’ve come to find out that this is how he treats most every victim who has come forward to report their abuse—he calls them liars and then dismisses them from his “prescence.”

Apparently Bishop Trautman thinks that clergy sexual abuse is a laughing matter. I was shocked to find this excerpt from "The Wanderer", a conservative Catholic newspaper on 6/5/97. "The cavalier attitude of some priests in the Catholic Church was demonstrated on February 27 at Houston's St. Mary's Seminary. Bishop Donald Trautman of Erie, PA delivered a speech on "inclusive language". Bishop Trautman noted that in the present Ordination promise, the priest promises to serve "all men". Emphasizing "all men", Trautman joked that young priests may take this as a calling to become pedophiles."

How can a man who thinks that pedophilia is a joke possibly take the problem seriously? The reality is that he doesn’t. As I have been on my journey to recovery, I have met a number of survivors in the Erie Diocese who were abused who were “barely legal” as I was. Sexual predators are cunning people. Studies indicate that the majority of predatory priests are ephebophiles aka “chicken hawks” that target naive & vulnerable young men and women barely of age for obvious reason—they can argue that it was consensual. However due to the power differential it is never consensual. It is illegal for a doctor or a therapist to engage in sexual behavior with a patient. However, priests are not covered under those same laws as they are supposed to be above that, they are supposed to be celibate.

How is it that there are 195 dioceses in the United States & 194 of them have had sexual abuse claims? Does that mean that the Erie Diocese is the only diocese which has not had any sexual abuse? The answer is NO. In my opinion the reason that Bishop Trautman has been able to avoid public scrutiny is due to the rural nature of the Erie Diocese. It covers almost 10,000 square miles. Geographically it is the largest diocese in Pennsylvania. There is no central newspaper that the majority of the parishioners in the diocese read. Erie is its largest city with a population of approximately 280,000. There are 225,000 parishioners in the diocese. It encompasses 13 counties and numerous small towns.

This makes it extremely hard for victims to come forward as there is not the level of anonymity that one would have in a large crowd. Having grown up in the area, I know how conservative it can be. People are good, “salt of the earth” people there. They believe in God, they believe in the Catholic Church & such conduct by priests that they have known for years is unthinkable. This makes the Erie Diocese fertile ground for sowing the seeds of clergy sexual abuse as they believe, “It can’t happen here.” It has come to light that sometimes dioceses “traded perpetrators” and sent the really bad ones to more rural areas where they were less likely to get caught. Cardinal Roger Mahony’s transfer of Father Oliver O’Grady to the Stockton, CA Diocese is a prime example of this type of “solution.” You can see the horrendous story of Father O'Grady in the Academy Award nominated documentaty "Deliver Us From Evil."

I have talked with a number of survivors from the Erie Diocese. We have one striking similarity. We were all devout believers in the Church and its teachings, extremely trusting and sexually naive. Many of us were from prominent families, who one would never imagine being abused by a priest. A lot of the survivors were young men, like me who were barely of age. One survivor was abused at St. Mark’s Seminary in Meadville, Pa by a priest who was his spiritual director there. I know this survivor personally. He left the priesthood to get married. Trautman in return took away what he paid into his pension plan to punish him. Recently this survivor’s wife confronted her husband’s perpetrator. The perpetrator’s response was “I thought I’d made amends to them all.” Apparently he had so many victims that he’d lost count.

St. Mark’s was so controversial for its flagrant disregard for the teachings of the church and sexual misconduct, that an entire chapter in the book, “Goodbye, Good Men” was devoted to the goings on at the seminary. When Bishop Trautman found out that Father John Trigilio had been interviewed for the book, he was quite furious & punished him. Here is an excerpt from a letter that Trautman sent to Father Trigilio.

“I am frankly shocked by your outrageous comments: ‘If you wore a cassock, you were a reactionary daughter of Trent. If you wore women’s underwear, they would make you seminarian of the year.’ That statement alone is outrageous and unworthy of any priest. It reflects poor judgment and gross imprudence bordering on scandal. Because of your allegations and the scandalous manner in which you have publicized your thoughts, I hereby forbid you to exercise any priestly duties in the Diocese of Erie. I consider your statements reckless charges that hurt the good name of the priests and students at Saint Mark Seminary.” Father Trigilio apparently has had his privileges as a priest restored. However he will not speak on his comments in regards to St. Mark’s Seminary any longer.

There are other priests in the Erie Diocese that have not been prosecuted criminally or civilly due to the statute of limitations. They are still being supported by the Erie Diocese with parishioners’ donations. I will go into more detail on those cases in a later column. The bottom line is there are many victims in the Erie Diocese, but Bishop Donald Trautman thinks clergy sexual abuse is a joke.


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