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Greensburg, Pittsburgh Dioceses to remain mum on priests named in grand jury report

August 6, 2018

Roman Catholic Diocese of Greensburg’s Blessed Sacrament Cathedral

The Catholic dioceses of Greensburg and Pittsburgh will remain silent about the identities of clergy named in an upcoming grand jury report, pending its official release.

Announcements from both dioceses came Wednesday after Harrisburg Bishop Ron Gainer said the regional church body there was releasing a list of 71 priests and others in the church accused of sexually abusing children over the past seven decades. It followed the actions of Catholic officials in Erie and became the second Pennsylvania diocese to go public in front of the release of a 900-page grand jury report detailing accusations against “over 300 predator priests” in six dioceses across the state, including Greensburg, Pittsburgh, Scranton and Allentown.

In a prepared statement, spokesman Jerry Zufelt said the Greensburg Diocese stands with churches across the state in “prioritizing the protection of children and responding to the needs of survivors.” The Greensburg diocese would have seriously considered releasing names of those accused had the release of the report been delayed more than two weeks. The state Supreme Court, however, has said a redacted version will be available this month, possibly as soon as next week.

Bishop David Zubik on Wednesday released a statement saying the Pittsburgh Diocese was taking a similar approach.

“We respect the rights of all those involved in the grand jury process and support the Supreme Court’s decision to expediently release the report so the stories and voices of victims can be heard,” Zubik said. “The Supreme Court’s procedure is meant to ensure persons listed in the report are accorded their rights under the Pennsylvania Constitution. While a seal remains in place, the forthcoming release of the grand jury’s report will allow the opportunity for us to respond more fully in this matter.”

The report details findings from a sweeping state grand jury investigation that looked at decades of allegations of sexual abuse and cover-ups in Roman Catholic dioceses. It remains sealed as several people pursue constitutional challenges before the state Supreme Court.

The court, however, has ruled that an edited version of the document may become public as early as Aug. 8 and no later than Aug. 14.

“Certainly the Diocese of Greensburg is always reviewing our options in relation to our own response to the forthcoming interim grand jury report,” Zufelt wrote. “But we are also considering this: The grand jury spent two years hearing testimony from many courageous survivors who came forward to tell their stories. We do not want to stymie the voice they deserve.”

On Tuesday, the Rev. John Thomas Sweeney -- who served as a priest in seven Greensburg diocese parishes before retiring in 2016 -- pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of indecent assault in a case that accused him of molesting a Lower Burrell Catholic school student 25 years ago.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court took control of the grand jury report, originally scheduled for release last month, after 14 people named but not charged criminally filed objections to the release saying it violated their right to due process and the state constitution’s “guarantee of good reputation. ”

The court ordered state Attorney General Josh Shapiro to prepare a copy of the report, with the names of those who filed objections blacked out along with any context that would point to their identities. A special master appointed to review the document.

A spokesman for Shapiro on Wednesday reiterated the attorney general’s vow to “publish an honest and comprehensive accounting of widespread sexual abuse by more than 300 priests in six Pennsylvania dioceses.”

“To this point, the Diocese of Harrisburg has been adverse to transparency and has not been cooperative,” said Shapiro spokesman Joe Grace. “A now public opinion by the judge supervising the grand jury last year made it clear they sought to end the investigation entirely.”

Speaking Wednesday at a news conference in Harrisburg, Gainer issued a public apology for the abuse. He said the church’s bishops shared the blame, having responded inadequately to all the allegations.

As a result, the name of every Harrisburg bishop since 1947 will be removed from church facilities in the diocese, Gainer said.

Grace said the church’s actions following the release of the report will test their commitment to reforms.

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