Harrisburg Catholic diocese names 71 priests, clergy accused of sexual abuse
Bishop Ronald Gainer also announced sweeping changes to confidentiality policies and said the names of any men accused of such crimes would be removed from any place of honor in the diocese.
These changes pertain only to the Harrisburg diocese, which covers much of central Pennsylvania.
Gainer apologized profusely for abuses that occurred over many years. He said the church was releasing a list of every allegation made in recent decades against clergy in the diocese that had not been disproven.
Gainer said that when he became bishop in 2014, the diocese began working to verify the status of priests going back to the 1940s. He said the diocese wanted to release this list before, but the state attorney general's office asked them not to, so as not to interfere with its investigation of Catholic clergy abuses across the state.
Now that a state grand jury investigation is concluding, the diocese decided the time was right to release information it had gathered about its priests.
Attorney General Josh Shapiro's office issued a statement after the diocese's news conference ended, expressing criticism for the diocese's failure to be transparent in the past.
“It is long past due for the Diocese of Harrisburg to make public the names of predator priests within the Catholic Church,” said spokesman Joe Grace, in the written statement. “Their proclamations today only come after intense public pressure and in the face of the imminent release of the Grand Jury report exposing decades of child abuse and cover up.”
The statement went on to say that the attorney general's office will publish an "honest and comprehensive accounting of widespread sexual abuse by more than 300 priests" identified through the grand jury investigation into six dioceses.
The statement pointed out that the "true test" of the diocese's commitment to victims will be its future actions, and noted that the attorney general's office has called consistently for an elimination of the statute of limitations for victims of child sexual abuse.
Terry McKiernan is the president and founder of BishopAccountability.org, which tracks abuse reports.
His organization knew about 24 of the clergy members whose names were released by the diocese.
But more than 40 names were new and will be added to their database, McKiernan said. He thinks that that's the largest number of new names his organization has added to its records based on information released by a diocese.
“It’s a major development,” McKiernan said, adding, “It really changes our understanding of the Harrisburg diocese and what’s been going on there.”
Diocese waives confidentiality obligations
The Catholic Diocese of Harrisburg has released a list of more than 70 of its clergy members accused of sexually abusing children. John Buffone, firstname.lastname@example.org
Gainer said he has learned that some survivors who had confidentiality agreements with the diocese have felt constrained by those agreements. He is waiving those confidentiality agreements. This is expected to be huge for survivors who want to tell their stories.
The bishop said the diocese’s website would have new information about how to protect children. He said the first thing the diocese will now do upon getting a report of abuse is contact law enforcement.
He also said the names of any bishops since 1947 would be removed from buildings, as it was "clear that the leadership of the Church did not in every case take adequate measures when handling matters related to offending clerics."
Bishop McDevitt High School will not be renamed, as there are no records of such matters during McDevitt's tenure. The investigation extended back to 1947, and he died 12 years before.
Calling the abuse by clergy a “dark chapter ... a very sad chapter,” Gainer noted the clergy doing good work “in a very tough environment.”
He said Catholic Charities spent $8.4 million on programs to help those in need last year.
At the news conference in Harrisburg Wednesday morning, the diocese distributed the list of the names of men accused of child sexual abuse. None of those named are currently in the ministry or teaching, a spokesman said.
The allegations are divided into three categories:
The diocese said there is no estimate as to how many children were abused.
Survivors of abuse react to news
Todd Frey, who said he was abused by a York priest in the 1980s, said Wednesday's news finally shatters the facade that the Harrisburg diocese had fewer problems than others.
"I felt oftentimes like the Diocese of Harrisburg, they paint themselves in a rosy picture ... as if they're a little different, better," he said. The news shows "the Diocese of Harrisburg is not that clean," he said.
Frey's attorney, David Inscho, called the diocese's announcement "a public relations attempt" to get ahead of the expected release of a grand jury report next week.
"This information should have been disclosed and made fully transparent many years ago, not at the 11th hour," Inscho said.
Sharon Tell followed the news Wednesday.
In the morning, her daughter came over to her, holding her phone and showing her a news alert.
“Look, Mom, what’s happening,” Tell’s daughter told her.
Tell, 66, previously told the York Daily Record/Sunday News that she was sexually abused by a priest beginning at the age of 12. She said the abuse occurred while her family attended a church in the Allentown diocese. The priest, Msgr. James McHale, died in 1997.
Tell, who now lives in Lancaster County, has followed the recent news coverage of the grand jury investigation into Pennsylvania dioceses. She said she hasn’t been impressed with the Harrisburg diocese’s recent actions.
“If they really cared about the people that were abused they wouldn’t have had to wait until it’s so public,” Tell said. “They could have done something to help us way back when.”
Susan Blum, 65, said she hopes the release of the names will help victims realize they weren’t the only ones abused.
“I’m hoping that this will be a start for healing for a lot of people,” said Blum, who lived in York County until recently.
In 2016, Blum told the YDR that she was sexually abused by a priest in the Boston area when she was 15 years old. She said she didn’t tell anyone about the abuse until about five years ago when she found the priest’s name on www.BishopAccountability.org, and saw that he had abused at least one other, and she knew she wasn’t alone.
According to most recent CDC statistics, an estimated 1 in 4 children in America experience maltreatment at some point in their lives. York Daily Record
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