Area Catholic priests offer apologies, ask forgiveness for child sexual abuse allegations

By Joe Sylvester
Daily Item
August 06, 2018

The Rev. Mark Wilke, pastor of Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in Lewisburg, reads from Bishop Ronald Gainer's letter at the end of Sunday Mass.
Photo by Joe Sylvester

The Rev. John David Hoke, pastor of St. Joseph Church in Milton, offers comments about Bishop Ronald Gainer's letter to parishioners related to child sexual abuse allegations against priests and seminarians.
Photo by Joe Sylvester

Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in Lewisburg
Photo by Joe Sylvester

[with pdf]

Area Roman Catholic priests relayed their bishop's apologies to parishioners on Sunday over the child sexual abuse accusations against clergy and seminarians. At least a couple pastors offered apologies of their own.

"I'm so deeply saddened by these terrible sins," said the Rev. Mark Wilke, pastor of Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in Lewisburg, where three of the accused served at various times.

Wilke offered his comments to his congregation after reading a letter from Harrisburg Diocese Bishop Ronald Gainer at the end of Mass.

"I ask for forgiveness for anyone who has been hurt by any member of the clergy," Wilke said.

The Rev. John David Hoke, pastor of St. Joseph Church in Milton, addressing those affected by the abuse, said during the service, "I want to extend to you my apologies for the pain you are suffering." 

The Rev. James Lease, pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Danville, read the bishop's letter at the beginning of his homily as an attentive congregation listened.

After he read the letter, Lease encouraged anyone in the parish to come to him or office officials with any further questions. He also encouraged anyone who may have information regarding any abuse to report it through the diocese's new website.

Parish priests throughout the diocese received the letter to read on Sunday. The letter was similar to a column Gainer wrote, which was published in Friday's edition of The Daily Item, except that it was directed toward parishioners. His editorial piece followed the diocese's release of its report on the sex crimes against children. Seventeen of the Catholic priests named in the report previously served in Central Susquehanna Valley parishes. 

"I felt Father Wilke's compassion," Lorraine Broderick, 76, a former Mifflinburg resident now living in Boca Raton, Fla., said after the noon Mass at Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish.

Broderick, who used to attend the parish's mission church, St. George Church in Mifflinburg, said, though, the bishop's letter didn't hit the mark. She said the people forgotten in the whole scandal are Catholics in general, who are faced with a lot of doubt, and a lot of questions are unanswered.

She said if the Church had allowed women to be priests and deacons or in positions of authority, she doubts the whole mess would have happened, or at least as much.

"They get answers, they find solutions," Broderick said. "They know what's going on around them."

Her husband, James, 78, said the Church was cleaning up its act.

"Hopefully, they don't sweep it under the rug," he said.

The report listed 71 names in all, including 37 priests, of those accused of abusing children since 1947. None of the accused is in active ministry, according to Gainer.

On Wednesday, the release of a redacted version of a grand jury report into child sexual abuse in six dioceses in Pennsylvania is expected.

In his letter to parishioners, Gainer said, "My first thoughts focus on those who have experienced the pain and suffering of abuse and are survivors of such reprehensible actions. Their emotional and spiritual well-being is my primary concern."

He said the diocese will continue to provide healing for survivors who have come forward, as it has throughout the years.

"I apologize also to you, the people of our Diocese, whose faith and trust in our Church and its leaders has been tested," Gainer wrote.

A review of print and online publications including obituaries along with church contacts linked the 17 priests to parishes in Selinsgrove, Shamokin, Coal Township, Lewisburg, Milton, Kulpmont, Mount Carmel and Sunbury.

Among them, Father William Haviland, who died last year at 80 years of age and best known in Sunbury for his time at St. Monica Church,was a chaplain and administrator at Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in Lewisburg from 1987 to 1988, and also served the former St. Edward Parish in Shamokin from 1970 to 1976, was a chaplain and had lived at Queen of the Most Holy Rosary in Elysburg before relocating to a retirement home for priests in Harrisburg.

Father Thomas Lawler was the pastor of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Lewisburg when he died in the church rectory in 1987, according to his obituary published in the Boston Globe. Lawler’s name was on the parish education building. It was removed as part of an edict by Gainer. The bishop announced any accused clergy dating to 1947 whose names are used in honor on church buildings, halls and more must be removed, including all bishops.

Father Patrick Shannon was removed in 2005 as priest of Sacred Heart and of St. George's Mission in Mifflinburg amid allegations he abused a child three decades earlier while he served in Maryland.

Father Thomas Scala served at St. Joseph Church in Milton.



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