Roman Catholic Bishop David Zubik of Pittsburgh prepared fellow believers across his six-county diocese in Pennsylvania for the release of a grand jury report on accusations of sexual abuse allegedly committed by priests of the diocese. In a letter read at every parish in the Pittsburgh diocese on Sunday, Zubik declared that the 900-page report will offer a “sad and tragic description of events that occurred within the Church.” He also encouraged survivors of abuse survivors to come forward if they have not already done so. The report covers allegations in six Pennsylvania dioceses - Allentown, Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh, and Scranton. Many of the clergy named are retired or deceased.
“I’m concerned about our people that they may be scandalized and tempted to turn their backs on Ggod,” Zubik said. “I really felt it was important to get people ready for the report because it’s going to be tough and at the same time to realize the decisions that the Diocese of Pittsburgh makes today are far different today than what would have been made in the last 10, 20 years.”
Also at issue is the reputation of Archbishop Donald Wuerl of Washington D.C. Wuerl served as bishop of Pittsburgh for more than a decade before succeeding Archbishop Theodore McCarrick in Washington D.C. McCarrick is currently being investigated over allegations of sexual abuse, including molestation of a minor boy. He resigned his post of cardinal.
Zubik said that over the last three decades, his diocese put new policies into place in order “to respond quickly and compassionately” when abuse victims come forward. “We respond to allegations today very differently than decades ago,” said Zubik. When a credible allegation is made against a priest or deacon, law enforcement is informed and the name of the accused is released. All Church employees and volunteers within the diocese undergo a background check and receive training on how to prevent and identify sexual abuse. According to Zubik, his diocese does not now employ any priests or deacons serving in public ministry who have been accused of sexually abusing a child.
Slated for release on Wednesday, the report details allegations of sexual abuse and cover-ups within the above dioceses for over 70 years. It is expected to identify approximately 300 individuals suspected of abuse or of covering up abuse. After initially delaying the release of the report because of motions filed by persons named therein, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ordered that a redacted version be published no later than August 14.
Zubik said that his diocese had “fully cooperated” with Pennsylvania’s attorney general and has not tried to block publication of the report. The bishop said that a full list of the accused clergy form Pittsburgh will be released after the grand jury report, “out of respect for the work of the grand jury and the process outlined by the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.” The Diocese of Harrisburg and others have already released lists of priests, deacons, and seminarians who were accused of abuse or misconduct during the last 70 years.
Zubik told fellow Catholics in his Sunday letter that over 90 percent of abuse claims occurred before 1990, antedating his time as bishop. The Pennsylvania state’s attorney general investigation covered the period when Cardinal Donald Wuerl served as Bishop of Pittsburgh (1988-2006). He is currently the Archbishop of Washington.
Zubik wrote of his hope that releasing the names of the accused will strengthen Catholics’ trust. He believes that there is a need for increased transparency within the diocese. “Every act of child sexual abuse is horrific, no matter how long ago it occurred,” said Zubik. He called on Catholics to join him in praying for and with abuse survivors, as well as “vast majority of dedicated priests and deacons who bear the shame and the pain of the worst deeds of their peers.”
“It is my hope that doing so will further strengthen the trust that you, the faithful, have placed in our diocese and in the ministry of our priests and deacons,” Zubik wrote in the letter. “In the past I truly believed that turning these names over to local law enforcement was appropriate and sufficient action. However, the conclusion of the grand jury report requires a higher level of transparency on our part.”
In July, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro announced that Thomas Sweeney, a former priest of the Greensburg Diocese, had pled guilty to indecent assault. “There can be no doubt that father Sweeney is a predator priest,” Shapiro said. Others convicted include: Rev. Robert Wolk, Rev. Richard Zula, Rev. Richard Dorsch. The latter was convicted of sexually assaulting a 13-year-old boy in North Park.
While Wuerl has called for bishops to be impanelled to examine the extent of sexual abuse committed by bishops, a fellow bishop recently disagreed. Bishop Edward Scharfenberger of Albany, who had a priest sexually molested by ex-Cardinal McCarrick, released a public letter to fellow bishops that indicated that Wuerl’s solution would have little credibility among Catholics. There are accusations that an as yet undetermined number of bishops were aware of rumors and allegations of sexual abuse committed by McCarrick on seminarians and priests under his authority. McCarrick rose through the ranks until becoming a cardinal. It was when the Archdiocese of New York could substantiate the credibility of an allegation that McCarrick sexually abused a minor that McCarrick fell. Pope Francis accepted McCarrick’s resignation and called on him to a life of prayer and penitence while an investigation goes forward. There are also accusations that McCarrick preyed on the first child he baptized.
On August 5, The Catholic Moment published an article by Bishop Timothy Doherty of Lafayette Ind. that called for the US Conference of Catholic Bishops to hire an outside investigator to determine "who knew what, and when” in the McCarrick affair. Writing that prayers and apologies to survivors of abuse are “necessary, but not sufficient”, Doherty added that the world deserves to know how McCarrick’s alleged misdeeds went unreported. “There is evidence that various people made allegations and had reported them in the United States and in Rome,” he added. “What has gone wrong? We deserve to find out.”
Spero News writer Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.