For Ed Pawlowski, Catholic Church: Advice on How to Say "I'm Sorry"

By Bill White
Morning Call
August 27, 2018

Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski announces his resignation in March (Matt Smith / AP)

"Love Story” was a sappy movie, based on a sappy book, starring two bad actors.

Worse, it spawned a terrible catch phrase: “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”

I think in love and everything else, we should take responsibility for our actions, including those that warrant apologies.

Unfortunately, we’ve seen too many examples of people and institutions that won’t take genuine responsibility for their bad behavior.

For example, I routinely find myself wanting to give advice to former Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski, who blamed everyone but himself for corruption at City Hall — and continues to do it, even after his conviction on 47 of 54 counts in his federal corruption trial.

When Pawlowski was soliciting letters of support to the judge who will sentence him, proposing specific language for his defenders to use, I suggested that he would win far more favor from the judge with four words:

“I resign. I’m sorry.”

Well, he did resign. But he still hasn’t apologized for his conduct. In the most recent developments in his saga, he and his wife have been soliciting contributions to help pay his legal bills — first with a short-lived, poorly received GoFundMe effort, then through Facebook. And his lawyer has sent a sentencing memo to federal Judge Juan Sanchez in which he argued that the city actually benefited from the schemes Pawlowski was charged with and that he is a “legend” to the city’s less fortunate and was single-handedly responsible for the city’s resurgence.

No contrition. Instead, the memo blames campaign chairman and former close friend Mike Fleck for leading him astray, only acknowledging that Pawlowski shouldn’t have put his trust in a “narcissistic reprobate.”

I get it. The goal is to remind the judge that this isn’t a lifelong crook or someone who pocketed other people’s money, and that the former mayor did accomplish positive things.

But this level of puffery strikes me as over the top. A legend?

If I were Pawlowski’s lawyer, here’s the statement I would have the former mayor read in court. It wouldn’t pass the buck and it wouldn’t oversell his accomplishments.

I apologize for betraying my city and the people who elected me by engaging in illegal conduct to further my political ambitions. The power of my position and the prospect of more power went to my head.

I’m proud of many things I accomplished for Allentown, and I believe I left the city a much better place than when I took office. I only regret that a legacy for which I would have been very proud has been so badly tarnished by my arrogance and poor judgment.

I believe my record of public service, considered as a whole, suggests that I still have much to offer to this community and this world. So I would ask that as you consider an appropriate sentence, you take into account my contrition and my determination to use whatever time I have left on this earth to make amends for my crimes by putting my gifts to work in the service of positive change.

I humbly believe I can make you proud.

I suspect he’s in for a stiff sentence, whatever he says or writes. But it would be the right message. Finally.

We have seen apologies from leaders of the Catholic Church in the wake of the devastating grand jury report on child sex abuse and cover-ups in six Pennsylvania dioceses.

Unfortunately, some of the people apologizing played active roles in protecting pedophiles. That makes their sincerity suspect, particularly since the church’s future depends on the continued willingness of parishioners to give them money.

It feels more like a financially motivated public relations campaign than a genuine expression of remorse.

Luckily, I have some helpful advice for them, too.

Instead of just saying you’re sorry your priests raped and molested at least 1,000 children, add this statement to all those press releases and letters to church members.

Talk is cheap, we know. So lest anyone doubt our sincere determination to do what we can to help the survivors of these crimes begin to heal and get the help they need, we the leaders of all Pennsylvania dioceses pledge to actively support efforts to open a two-year window for all victims of child sex abuse to file suit against the people and institutions that committed and covered up these crimes, including those who are barred at present by Pennsylvania statutes of limitations.

We intend to back this statement up by not only ending the church’s practice of using its financial resources and political influence to fight this and other statute of limitation reforms for these types of crimes, but also by lobbying on their behalf and opposing challenges to the constitutionality of civil access for those who previously were barred by antiquated statute of limitations laws.

We recognize the potential for substantial financial losses for those of us who may be facing lawsuits, not just the church but institutions and individuals who have no connection with us. But we believe the cause of justice requires us to embrace the recommendations of all the grand juries that have investigated our record of failing to protect the precious young people who ought to be our highest priority.

The fact is that statutes of limitations expired in many of these cases because of our efforts to cover up these crimes. Only when all these victims have had their chance to confront those who abused them and turned a blind eye to that abuse will we truly to be able to move on from the horrors that have been brought to light in these grand jury reports.

Another factor in this decision is our knowledge that most child sex abuse crimes are committed not by clergy, but by family members, family friends and others — and that in the vast majority of cases, their identities won’t ever be revealed by grand jury reports.

So allowing those survivors to finally name and confront those hidden pedophiles in our midst will serve the additional public service of alerting other people in the community to the danger they may pose.

We pray that this huge change of church policy will begin to convince our church members, the public at large and especially those who have been victims of these crimes that we are determined to move into a new era in which every child can feel confident that we will do everything we can to keep them safe from harm.

Love means saying you’re sorry. And then proving it.

Bill White’s commentary appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. , 610-820-6105








Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.