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Westmoreland County Catholics react to impending priest accusations

August 22, 2018

Our Lady of Grace Church in Hempfield.

Patti Campbell loves her church, but she’s not sure what the future holds for the Diocese of Greensburg as Bishop Edward Malesic prepares to release a list of priests accused of sexual misconduct.

“I love my Catholic religion, and I am saddened,” Campbell said before the Saturday afternoon Mass at Our Lady of Grace Church in Hempfield.

She said she’s had nothing but positive experiences with the church and with the priests she’s known.

“I just hope that when that list comes out, it’s nobody I know,” she said.

An upcoming grand jury report is expected to document decades of allegations against more than 300 priests across Pennsylvania.

The dioceses of Erie and Harrisburg already released the names of accused priests. The Greensburg and Pittsburgh dioceses said they will wait to do so until the grand jury releases an interim report, expected no later than Tuesday.

Many parishioners at Our Lady of Grace Church, most of whom did not want to be named in print, said they don’t know what to think about the accusations, but the list should be made public.

“I think the list should be released. I think there’s a lot that has been kept secret,” said Maureen Bilik, who has attended the church more than 30 years.

An insert in the church bulletin addressed the scandals with a written statement by Malesic, saying the Catholic Church has “learned from its mistakes” and that the wrongs committed in the past do not reflect the modern institution.

“I can assure you that the Church in the Diocese of Greensburg today has evolved far beyond the Church described in media reports,” the statement said. “One of the safest places to be as a young person today is the Catholic Church.”

Ashley Johnson, Campbell’s daughter, said she’s worried the allegations will damage the reputation of the church and the good priests she says make up the overwhelming majority of clergy.

“It’s so sad and sickening,” she said. “The predators are going to ruin it for the good ones.”

Campbell said she hopes to see her beloved church come through the scandal.

“I hope that people still want to be devoted to the church,” she said.

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