Revulsion may be the public’s first reaction to the 800-page Pennsylvania grand jury report on abuse of children and teens by Catholic priests, but a person who supervises a local program for victims of sexual assault expects an increase in the number of people seeking help.
Joanna Dragan, supervisor of Southwestern Pennsylvania Human Services Inc. CARE Center’s Sexual Trauma, Treatment and Recovery Services program, known as STTARS, said Thursday there has not been an immediate increase in callers seeking counseling, but that she expects an increase.
“Usually with the calls, it’s a ripple affect, so it takes people a little while to process the information,” Dragan said.
“Then they reach out to us in the weeks or months which follow.”
The grand jury report, released Tuesday, goes back decades and details 301 priests who are alleged to have abused more than a thousand children.
Dragan categorized the reactions as “shock, outrage, and confusion among those in our communities who are struggling to understand why such rampant sexual abuse of children was allowed to continue in secrecy for so long.”
But she views the release of the information as raising public consciousness “that sexual violence does not discriminate based on age, race, gender or socio-economic status.
“It can occur in any setting.”
Since 1982, the STTARS program has worked with survivors of sexual violence and their families and friends in Washington and Greene counties, providing counseling and legal and medical advocacy.
Dragan said any report of sexual violence in the media has a traumatic impact on those who have experienced abuse.
Annually, STTARS aids between 600 and 700 people at various locations in Washington and Greene counties.
The program describes its services from staff members and volunteers as free and confidential. It offers a 24-hour hotline at 1-888-480-7283.
Meanwhile, the group Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests has called for Bishop David Zubik of the Pittsburgh Catholic Diocese to step down.
“Catholics should stop donating to Bishop Zubik’s diocese until he steps down or takes proven steps to protect kids,” the group said in a news release on its website.
SNAP also asked that churchgoers give “more generously than ever,” but to groups such as “Catholic Charities with boards of directors that are less apt to ignore, hide or enable child sex crimes.”
A message requesting a response from the Rev. Nicholas S. Vaskov, executive director of communications for the diocese, was not immediately returned.
“What I’m hearing from victims is a feeling of relief for them,” SNAP Midwest Associate Leader Judy Jones said Thursday in a phone interview. “They’ve waited a long time for this to happen.”
At a news conference Tuesday, held just after the grand jury released its report, Zubik apologized “in the name of the Church of Pittsburgh” on his own behalf and “in the name of my predecessors....
“We cannot bury our heads in the sand. There were instances in the past, as outlined in this report, where the Church acted in ways that did not respond effectively to victims. Swift and firm responses to allegations should have started long before they did. For that I express profound regret.”
A predecessor of Zubik’s is Donald Wuerl, who is now archbishop of Washington, D.C., and a member of the College of Cardinals.
A Pittsburgh native, Wuerl, is the namesake of North Catholic High School in Cranberry Township, Butler County. According to media reports, there is a movement calling for the removal of his name from the school.
An online letter to Wuerl and Pope Francis calls for Wuerl to be removed immediately as archbishop of Washington. It is sponsored by LifePetitions, which calls itself a “platform exclusively serving the pro-life and pro-family communities.”