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Bishop David Zubik: Church today ‘not the church’ of grand jury report

September 5, 2018

Bishop David Zubik speaks during a press conference at the Diocese of Pittsburgh, Downtown on Aug. 14, 2018.

Bishop David Zubik on Sunday took his message to the national pulpit, saying the Pittsburgh diocese filled with predator priests in the past isn’t the church of today, shunning calls for his resignation and saying he has “followed every single step” in taking appropriate action to deal with allegations of clergy sexually abusing children.

Zubik spoke to George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s “This Week,” appearing five days after the release of a grand jury report that detailed widespread child sexual abuse in Catholic dioceses based in Allentown, Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh and Scranton. The grand jury accused Zubik and the Pittsburgh diocese of not reporting credible allegations in a timely manner.

“I was a little bit surprised to hear, after my first answer to the news conference on Tuesday, that I was somehow a part of the cover-up,” Zubik told Stephanopoulos. “I realized that what we needed to do here in Pittsburgh was to be able to show the public how that wasn’t so.”

A diocese spokesman did not respond to a request for comment on Sunday.

Zubik told Stephanopoulos that the Pittsburgh diocese no longer is the church described in the nearly 900-page report, which identified 301 “predator priests” -- 99 who served in the Pittsburgh diocese.

“I can well understand the rage that people have in reading this report,” Zubik said. “I feel that rage as well.”

The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, has called for Zubik to step down. The group plans to hold public events Monday outside diocese offices in Pittsburgh and Greensburg.

Zubik said since he became bishop in 2007, the diocese has listened to victims “very carefully,” removed priests from ministry and referred allegations to local district attorneys. The Pittsburgh diocese covers Allegheny, Beaver, Butler, Greene, Lawrence and Washington counties.

The Pittsburgh diocese on Friday posted a list of 22 living clergy who were removed from ministry due to “credible and substantiated” child sex abuse allegations. It included the years in which those allegations were turned over to district attorneys.

The diocese reports that it informed prosecutors of the allegations in 19 cases. Three others are listed as being disclosed at trial, by an arrest and having been reported by someone at a juvenile detention center.

The Pittsburgh diocese informed district attorneys of the allegations in the same year that the priests were removed from ministry in just eight cases. In the other 11 cases, the allegations were not reported to prosecutors to investigate for an average of 12 years after the priests were removed from ministry -- including 28 years for the Rev. Carl Roemele and 23 years for the Rev. William Yockey.

Early signs

Roemele was ordained in 1963. In 1967, according to the grand jury report, a mother wrote the diocese to report that he had molested four boys at a cabin while serving as parochial vicar at St. William, a former parish in East Pittsburgh. Diocese records did not list any action taken against Roemele, the report states.

Roemele took a leave of absence and then resigned altogether in 1976, after having served in six parishes as well as at the Community College of Allegheny County and the Allegheny County Jail. He was officially laicized -- or dismissed from the clerical state -- in 1978.

In August 2004, a man wrote then-Bishop Donald Wuerl -- now a cardinal and archbishop in Washington, D.C. -- to report that Roemele repeatedly molested him and two other St. Joseph altar boys on trips to a cabin at Aleo Lake, located near Stahlstown, Westmoreland County. Roemele served at the Duquesne parish from 1967 to 1972, the report states. The diocese notified the Allegheny County District Attorney’s office in September 2004.

The diocese received other reports of alleged child sex abuse committed by Roemele in 2008 and 2010. It reported both to the district attorney’s office, the report states.

Diocese officials confront Roemele in 2009 about the sex abuse allegations, which he denied, the report states. His name was given to the district attorney in Butler County, where he lived, citing a new policy of notifying authorities that a priest with allegations of sexual abuse lives in their jurisdiction.

Paying up

Yockey was ordained in 1977 and assigned to Assumption Church in Bellevue -- where he met two boys who later accused him of plying them with alcohol and then molesting them in the early 1980s, when they were 16 and 18, the grand jury reported.

The accusations were made in 1991 to a parish priest. Yockey resigned that same year, requesting medical coverage and “perhaps some salary,” the report states.

In 2009, the victim who was 16 when he claims Yockey molested him contacted Zubik directly, stating that he had never received a phone call or letter from the diocese concerning the matter for 18 years. He asked for financial assistance to keep his three children in Catholic school, the grand jury reported.

“I have received your letter requesting tuition support for your three children and I will make sure that your request is taken care of,” the report quotes Zubik telling the victim in a letter.

The diocese provided $44,680 to cover tuition for the victim’s children from 2012 through the 2016-17 school year, the grand jury reported. The money came from the Catholic Charities Fund and the Bishop’s Education Fund and Scholastic Opportunity Scholarship Fund, the report states.

In December 2013, another victim reported that Yockey had molested him while serving at St. Bernadette in Monroeville, where the he served as a priest from 1978-83. The victim said he was around 10 years old and was living with an aunt in Wilkinsburg after both of his parents died.

The diocese notified the district attorney’s office about three weeks later. It was the first reference to prosecutors being notified even though “the diocese had information regarding alleged criminal actions on the part of Yockey as far back as the year 1986,” the report states.

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