More Abusive Priests to Be Named As Bishops Take on Contrasting Outlooks on Abuse Investigation
By Ivey DeJesus
May 18, 2018
|With the release of findings from a grand jury investigation expected as early as June, Catholic bishops across Pennsylvania are bracing for the report, with some suggesting a legal challenge. Pictured here is Diocese of Harrisburg Bishop Ronald Gainer. (PennLive File)|
As early as next week, Catholics in Pennsylvania could learn the names of additional priests or lay people credibly accused of child sexual abuse.
At least one diocese - that of Erie - is expected to release additional names of priests or staff who face credible accusations of child sexual abuse or molestation.
That is according to an attorney who has been working closely with the diocese and its head, Bishop Lawrence Persico.
Mark Rush, of the Pittsburgh-based K&L Gates law firm, on Friday said the information will be posted to the website, in conjunction to the online announcement made in April by Persico publicizing a list of 34 priests and 17 lay people.
Some of the individuals named are dead; others are still alive. All had, over the past 70 years, been identified in credible accusations of child sexual abuse.
"We have received other information on other clergy," Rush said. "That program is organic so as we receive information from victims or frankly from the grand jury, we will follow up in the appropriate manner."
Rush said the Diocese of Erie has, since the release of those names, received over 25 calls - some directly from victims and others from family members of victims.
"That website has actually been a very good source of communication for folks who were from the Diocese of Erie who suffered abuse who are now calling back with their story, and, in many cases, with gratitude for the creation of the website," Rush said.
As early as June, the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General is expected to release the findings of a grand jury investigation into allegations of clergy sex abuse and potential cover-up across six Catholic dioceses.
Sources close to the investigation have indicated that the grand jury has completed its probe. In the meantime, the respective bishops of Erie, Harrisburg, Scranton, Pittsburgh, Allentown and Greensburg - have increasingly made public announcements with regards to matters of the investigative process.
The Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General in 2016 launched the grand jury investigation into allegations of clergy sex abuse and potential cover-up across the six Catholic dioceses.
Sources close to the investigation speaking on background have indicated that the findings will be far worse than those out of the earlier investigations into the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown, which were the subject of similar investigations.
On Wednesday, Perisco became the first bishop to announce he would not mount a legal challenge to the findings or stall the publication of the report.
Similar announcements followed from officials in the dioceses of Allentown and Scranton.
The other three dioceses have hedged their stance on the matter.
The Diocese of Harrisburg on Friday signaled that it might have concerns with aspects of the investigation.
"The Diocese of Harrisburg wants to be clear that we strongly support the release of the Grand Jury report. However, we are also concerned about due process rights. It's important that we get this report right," Bishop Ronald Gainer said in a statement released to PennLive.
Similarly, the Rev. Nicholas Vaskov, the spokesman for the Diocese of Pittsburgh, on Friday told PennLive: "We are not opposed to the release of the grand jury report and although we have not received it, we trust we will get a full and fair opportunity to review it and respond."
Vaskov said he could not comment on whether the potential remained that the diocese could challenge the report.
Striking a similar tone, Jerry Zufelt, the spokesman for the Diocese of Greensburg, told PennLive that Bishop Edward Malesic supports the release of the grand jury report, adding "with due process."
Asked to clarify if that stance left open the potential for a legal challenge, Malesic referred PennLive to the legal counsel of the diocese.
Zufelt said he could not provide specific information as the scope of the investigation in the Diocese of Greensburg.
Both the dioceses in Erie and Greensburg have seen the arrest of priests as a result of the grand jury investigation.
Attorney General Josh Shapiro earlier this month announced the arrest of Father David Poulson, a 40-year priest in the Diocese of Erie. Poulson, 64, was charged with sexually assaulting two boys over the course of many years. He has been charged with three felonies including indecent assault, endangering the welfare of children and corruption of minors.
Last September, authorities arrested a retired priest who had served at various parishes throughout the Greensburg Diocese.
The Rev. John Sweeney, 74, is accused of sexually molesting a 10-year-old boy.
Zufelt said that the Diocese of Greensburg continues to refer calls from potential victims of abuse to the state's ChildLine, which logs and refers reports of child abuse for investigation.
"We leave all investigative work to law enforcement officials," Zufelt said.
For now, the hedged responses from the bishops in Harrisburg, Pittsburgh and Greensburg are markedly different from the official statements released by the bishops in Erie, Scranton and Allentown unequivocally expressing no intention to mount a legal challenge or stall the publication.
Joe Grace, a spokesman for the state Office of Attorney General, confirmed that the office had seen the latest statements from the bishops.
"We look forward to actions from the Dioceses of Harrisburg and Greensburg which match their words," Grace said on Friday.
"We stand on our previous public statements -- Attorney General Josh Shapiro commends Bishops (Joseph) Bambera of Scranton, (Alfred) Schlert of Allentown and Persico of Erie for not mounting a challenge that would silence the voices of victims of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church."
"These bishops stand in stark contrast to the bishops of Greensburg, Harrisburg and Pittsburgh."