As they filed in to a noontime Mass Wednesday, parishioners at Immaculate Conception Church in Washington acknowledged feelings of shock and horror at the report by a statewide grand jury that identified abusive priests in six of the eight Roman Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania.
“Of course, it’s shocking,” said Jeff Betler. The bursar at Washington & Jefferson College, Betler’s home parish is Mary, Mother of the Church in Charleroi, but Betler and scores of other believers were at Immaculate Conception Church to mark the Assumption of Mary, a holy day in the Catholic faith marking the ascension of Mary into heaven.
“There are bad people in all walks of life,” Betler continued. “I’m not sure what can drive people to do what they did. I’m not sure I fully grasp this, but it hasn’t shaken my faith.”
At the start of the service, the Rev. Daniel R. Waruszewski acknowledged a “heavy heart” in the wake of the grand jury report, which uncovered more than 300 abusive priests and three times as many victims over a period stretching back to the 1940s. The report also found that church officials were sometimes aware of the priests’ misdeeds, but chose to sweep their behavior under the rug, or reassign them to other parishes.
Waruszewski also asked that congregants pray, “especially for the victims.” Later in the service, he said that “all dioceses are suffering.”
Priests who served at Immaculate Conception Church in the course of their careers were mentioned in the report. The Rev. Michael C. Romero, a parochial vicar from 1978 to 1982, is accused of providing one boy with alcohol and discussing masturbation with him and other boys. Romero died in 2000. The Rev. John Bauer, also named in the report, served at Immaculate Conception Church for 10 years starting in 1978, and is accused of having given alcohol to boys and wrestling with them. Bauer is now a pastor of St. Hugh and Our Lady of Consolation in Carmichaels, Greene County, and has denied any wrongdoing (see related story). No charges were filed against Romero, and none has been filed against Bauer.
The grand jury report has long been in the works, and Ron McGinnis, a South Strabane resident, said he was glad it has been released. He also noted that many of the allegations in the report are 18 years old or older.
“It’s sinful,” he said. “It’s disturbing. They betrayed their vocation.” But McGinnis cited the wide-ranging charitable work of the Catholic Church, and “we want to continue with the good work of the church.”
Before the service, Joanne Dietrich of East Washington said, “What they’re going after is the cover-up. I don’t know where it’s going to end.”