Greensburg diocese’s Bishop Malesic attempts healing at Lower Burrell church

November 20, 2018

Catholic Diocese of Greensburg’s healing efforts continued Monday evening at St. Margaret Mary Parish in Lower Burrell.

Bishop Edward C. Malesic and other leaders heard from their flock in the third of seven scheduled “listening sessions” designed to help is 78 parishes move forward in wake of a decades-long, widespread sexual abuse scandal involving priests.

“The center of our church is not pedophilia,” Malesic said. “The center of our church is Jesus Christ.”

The two-hour session, moderated by the diocese’s Chief Communications Officer Jennifer Miele, at the church along Leechburg Road drew about 220 people from several churches.

Several speakers, like Sheila Mendicino of Allegheny Township, said the culture of the Catholic church needs to change, and these listening sessions are a good start.

“I think it’s a very good move for the Catholic church to do something rather than nothing,” Mendicino said. “We really weren’t sure what to expect tonight. It’s a good thing that the diocese is wanting to listen to where people are at with this. The church is in crisis. There’s no question about it, but it’s been in crisis for a long time.”

She suggested women be allowed to become priests, and priests be allowed to marry, among other things.

“I do think that the diocese needs to conduct some type of a survey with practicing and non-practicing Catholics,” Mendicino said. “We need to find out what it is that’s missing. I do believe church enrollment is down since the scandal.

“I do feel positive that the Catholic church is going to come out being better when this is done.”

A grand jury report, released in August, detailed allegations of sexual abuse in six Catholic diocese across Pennsylvania, identifying 301 “predator priests” who are accused of molesting at least 1,000 victims over 70 years.

Twenty priests from the Greensburg diocese are accused in the report.

It also found that diocesean leaders failed to properly investigate claims of child sexual abuse “in order to avoid scandal and possible criminal and civil liability.”

Margaret Yucas of Leechburg said she support’s Mendicino’s suggestions. They both belong to St. Gertrude’s Parish in Vandergrift.

“I want to see how we can go further into the future with our Catholic church and make sure we stay viable,” Yucas said.

The Greensburg diocese formed a Safe Environment Advisory Council to oversee the listening sessions. Its task is to take all the input and create an action plan that will protect and support victims and prevent such incidents from happening again.

Murrysville resident Ellen Katter, Excella Health’s volunteer programs director, is on the council and attended all listening sessions so far.

“We will continue to evaluate what has been said, listening carefully as the bishop has done,” Katter said. “I think people are concerned about what has happened to some of their priests. The bishop has been able to, in a very honest and caring way, reassure people and let people know that we have processes in place, and that we will continue to uphold that will protect victims. That continues to be our primary thing.”

A few attendees shared stories of abuse they allegedly witnessed at other parishes in the 1960s, and one who said they experienced it at home.

“We are in need of apologizing for things that we did badly,” replied Monsignor Raymond Riffle, managing director of Catholic Charities and the bishop’s delegate for matters of clergy and church personnel sexual misconduct.

Riffle said he’s fielded multiple calls from victims, and that it takes bravery to share those stories.

“We stand for the victim first, last and always,” Riffle said.

A theme throughout the listening session was transparency.

“Anything less of transparency won’t due,” said Riffle.

Paul Niemiec, the diocese victim’s assistance coordinator, talked about additional screening that was implemented and how those training to become priests are put through more clinical reviews and psychological testing than before.

Some brought up Pope Francis’ comments from September about “The Great Accuser,” a biblical name for Satan, played a role in the scandal and priests’ actions.

“The devil is the evil that tempted these priests,” Malesic said. “I cannot imagine someone abusing a child and then having Mass. It’s a mixture of the devil and human freedom.”

The bishop did receive compliments from several attendees; one even baked him chocolate chip cookies.

Listening sessions began Oct. 22 at Blessed Sacrament in Greensburg. About 265 people attended that one. About 350 attended the second on Oct. 24 at St. Therese, Little Flower of Jesus Parish in Uniontown.

“I think they’ve been going very well,” Malesic said prior to the start of St. Margaret Mary. “A lot of people have been expressing their thoughts and their feelings, giving suggestions moving forward. Each one was unique because they’re in different areas of the diocese. I think it’s a gathering of the family of the church.

“We need to be open about the concerns of our people, and I need to listen to them.”

The bishop opened the session with a prayer for the Jewish community, which was devastated Saturday when a gunman killed 11 people and injured six more at a synagogue in Squirrel Hill.

“We experienced a great tragedy,” he said. “It reminds us that we are interconnected. We need to pray so that we may expand our hearts.”

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