Erie’s Persico: Grand jury report ‘must be remembered’

By Ed Palattella
August 14, 2019

Bishop also urges prayer, healing in letter issued on 1st anniversary of release of report on clergy sex abuse statewide.

Erie Catholic Bishop Lawrence Persico said he remains committed to helping victims and eradicating clergy sex abuse a year after the state attorney general released the groundbreaking grand jury report on abusive Roman Catholic clerics statewide.

“My apology is only one step in the long and complex process of healing,” Persico wrote in a letter to the faithful dated Wednesday. “I know words mean very little without action. The Diocese of Erie has taken many important steps in the last year, and will continue on this path.”

“Some could be tempted to want to close this chapter of our history and move on, but that would be a disservice not only to survivor/victims, but also to the faithful who fill our pews every Sunday,” Persico also wrote in the letter, which the diocese said would be shared with parishioners this Sunday.

“As with any event that has had a broad impact on so many people, it must be remembered, in part, to ensure that the changes we make in the church and in our world are deep and lasting,” Persico wrote.

Persico in the letter echoed what he has said in an interview leading up to Wednesday’s anniversary — that the diocese’s compensation fund for victims has paid out $3 million since the six-month claims period opened on Feb. 15.

The period ends on Thursday, and Persico said the fund would likely receive a large number of claims leading up to the deadline. He said that, to date, 52 victims or survivors had applied to the Independent Survivors Reparation Fund and that 23 had received payments. Persico in a previous interview said the payments have ranged from $25,000 to $400,000.

As he did upon the release of the grand jury report a year ago, Persico called for a day of prayer at all churches in the 13-county diocese, which has 202,000 members, 97 parishes and 137 church buildings. Persico designated the day of prayer as Sunday, Sept. 15, the memorial of Our Mother of Sorrows.

“We need to pray for survivor/victims. We need to pray for the healing and purification of the church,” Persico wrote. “We need to pray for the many good and holy priests who continue to serve faithfully. And we need to pray that our own faith be strengthened.”

The 884-page grand jury report alleged that 301 Roman Catholic priests in Pennsylvania, including 41 in the Catholic Diocese of Erie, victimized more than 1,000 minors dating to the 1940s.

The report spurred demands in Harrisburg to pass legislation that would give victims a two-year window to sue, no matter what the statute of limitations or how old their cases. That proposal stalled and, in the meantime, Persico and other Catholic bishops in Pennsylvania had their dioceses set up compensation funds.

Attorney General Josh Shapiro has continued to call for lawmakers to pass the two-year window, and he has criticized Persico and other Catholic bishops for lobbying against the window and for creating the compensation funds instead. Shapiro has also praised Persico for his transparency in handling the abuse crisis. Persico was the only bishop to testify before the grand jury and apologize.

Persico, 68, has been the bishop of the Erie diocese since October 2012. The retirement age for bishops is 75, and Persico said he expects that counseling victims and survivors and handling the abuse crisis will be major responsibilities for the rest of his career. His letter said the victims and survivors of clergy sex abuse had endured “unthinkable experiences.”

“It is clear that bringing about healing and rebuilding trust is the work we are being called to do as a church,” Persico wrote. “It will take time, patience and fidelity, but the Lord will provide the grace we need. With every confidence in that grace, I look forward to the work that needs to be accomplished during the second half of my tenure as bishop of the Diocese of Erie.”


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