In Dealing With Abuse Revelations, Some Pennsylvania Dioceses More Forthcoming Than Others
The female caller did not give her name, but her message resonated with the bishop of the Diocese of Erie.
A priest abused her in the late 1950s, she told the Most Rev. Lawrence Persico on Thursday, but she never came forward. She went to the diocese’s website, pulled up the list of predator priests and found her abuser’s name. “She said, ‘I want to thank you,’” Persico said. “She carried this all these years. It was important to her. ... It removed the shroud of secrecy.”
He has received many calls like that since April, when Erie became the first of the six dioceses targeted in a statewide grand jury probe to publicly identify clergy members accused of sexual abuse.
Persico’s transparency in dealing with the sex abuse scandal — he also was the only bishop to testify before the grand jury — was praised by state Attorney General Josh Shapiro.
Other dioceses, including Scranton, have been less forthcoming.
The Most. Rev. Joseph C. Bambera, Scranton’s bishop, held a press conference after the grand jury report was released Tuesday, but has been silent otherwise. He has left all communications to diocese spokesmen and did not respond to a request for an interview Friday.
At the press conference, Bambera stressed the diocese cooperated with the grand jury, providing the panel more than 250,000 pages of documents spanning 70 years. He also noted the diocese identified priests, in addition to those named in the grand jury report, who were accused of abuse. The report lists 59 priests, some of whose names are redacted, while the diocese lists 70.
Each of the other dioceses targeted in the probe — Pittsburgh, Allentown, Harrisburg and Greensburg — also voluntarily identified additional clergy members accused of abuse beyond those listed in the grand jury report.
All the dioceses link to the lists of the accused priests on their websites. That’s where the similarities end.
There are significant differences in the degree of detail the dioceses provide regarding each of the accused clergy members.
Scranton’s list contains the name of the accused and a link that shows the date they served in each parish and other information, including if they are alive or dead. It does not provide any information regarding the allegations against them.
That information is available for the priests named in the grand jury report, which is linked to on the website. There is no way to obtain information on the additional priests the diocese included in the list but who are not in the report.
The websites of the other dioceses, particularly Erie, Pittsburgh and Harrisburg, include significantly more information.
Erie’s website includes the names of all priests, as well as laypeople who worked in schools or other agencies, and also provides information on the state where those who are still living currently reside.
Pittsburgh’s website contains the names of all accused and, for those listed in the grand jury report, lists the page on which the public can find information on the case. It also includes information on eight priests against whom allegations of abuse could not be substantiated. The list details the allegations, the action the diocese took and the reasons for its decision.
Harrisburg’s site also lists details of the each case. Mike Barley, spokesman for the diocese, said it recently updated its list, which it originally released Aug. 1, after receiving a new complaint against a priest who had not been identified as an abuser previously. Monsignor Joseph Bradley, now deceased, served between 1950 and 1996.
“We felt it was important for a number of reasons to get it out to the public ... so they know we are serious about taking care of our children,” Barley said. “The church, rightly so, was criticized for handling issues internally (in the past). We are not handling them internally any more and we should not have been doing it back then.”
Sandra Yocum, Ph.D., a professor of faith and culture at the University of Dayton, Ohio, who has written extensively about the sex abuse crisis, said the public is closely watching the church’s response to the scandal. It’s imperative that officials provide as much information as possible.
“Trust has already been broken,” Yocum said. “To not address the issue in a clear way and a compassionate way ... it reinforces suspicions about the church’s ability to address serious matters.”
Persico said he released the list of Erie’s predator priests months before the grand jury report’s release because it’s important to show the public the church is committed to rectifying the problems that allowed the abuse to occur.
“If we are going to talk about trust and transparency, they are fine words, but what are we going to be able to show we are doing?” he said.
Erie and Harrisburg were the only dioceses to release the information early. Scranton, Pittsburgh, Allentown and Greensburg all refused to do so.
In an email, Dan Gallagher, spokesman for the Scranton diocese, said the diocese withheld the list because it was concerned releasing it could compromise the grand jury investigation. As to the amount of detail, Gallagher said the diocese believes it has achieved its primary goal, which is to “validate victims, to support additional victims in coming forward and to protect the public in the cases where the accused is still alive.”
Persico said he remains committed to openness. He hopes that some day the efforts the church is taking will restore trust, but he knows that’s going to take time.
“For some people this may be a crisis of faith,” he said. “We have to keep working and moving forward to restore trust in the leadership of the church.”
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The six Pennsylvania Catholic dioceses targeted in the statewide grand jury report on sexual abuse list the identities of all accused priests: