There aren’t enough Hail Marys or Our Fathers in the world for the Roman Catholic Church in Pennsylvania to adequately pay its penance for the horrifying child sex abuse scandal revealed for all to see this week.
A scathing grand jury report released Tuesday by state Attorney General Josh Shapiro identified 301 “predator priests” in Pennsylvania – including 99 in the Diocese of Pittsburgh – who were allegedly shielded by high-ranking church officials as they raped and molested little boys and girls for decades.
There have been rumblings for decades about child sex abuse at the hands of Roman Catholic priests, which were finally uncovered by the Boston Globe’s investigative series of its local diocese in 2002. But the jaw-dropping scope and level of molestation in the Pennsylvania grand jury report, along with an apparent “playbook” for cover-up, has shaken the church to its very core.
Our local priests in Washington and Greene counties, many of them who were beloved, are named in the report: James Adams, Leo Burchianti, Robert Castelucci, Anthony Cipolla, David Dzermejko, John Huber, Bernard Kaczmarczyk, George Kurutz, Thomas McKenna, William O’Malley, Raymond Rhoden, Paul Pindel, Francis Pucci, Michael Romero, David Scharf, Raymond Schultz, Rudolph Silvers, Paul Spisak, Lawrence Stebler, Charles Thomas, Theodore Zabowski.
And the list goes on and on and on.
It’s easy to become angry reading the nearly 900-page report. And with many of those “predator priests” now dead or banned from the clergy, that anger is rightfully being directed at local church officials.
There are growing calls for Pittsburgh Bishop David Zubik and Cardinal Donald Wuerl to resign for the roles they may or may not have played in the sex abuse scandal. But unlike a priest’s cassock and collar, this issue isn’t black and white.
Most of the child abuse occurred in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s before Wuerl began leading the Diocese of Pittsburgh as bishop in 1988. He is now claiming in interviews to have reformed the diocese while leading it for two decades and putting in place safeguards to remove priests accused of abuse.
But it appears he handled these situations more as internal personnel matters rather than criminal acts. Some priests accused of abuse were even given retirement stipends under Wuerl. Meanwhile, there were limits on what the church would pay to victims for counseling.
Zubik’s role in the scandal is less known, but his current position as bishop rightfully leads to questions and criticism about what he did or didn’t do upon learning of abuse.
A criminal investigation should be launched into what each bishop in Pennsylvania – past and present – knew about sex abuse in the church and what he did about it. Those answers could decide the fate of both Zubik and Wuerl.
In addition, Pennsylvania legislators must immediately issue a moratorium on the state’s ridiculous statute of limitations law that allowed priests to escape prosecution while church leaders ran out the legal clock on abuse claims so victims could never have their days in court.
What has been most puzzling, though, is the response by some of the church faithful.
The Rev. John Bauer, who is one of the priests named in the report for allegedly serving alcohol to minors and wrestling with them while at Immaculate Conception Church in Washington nearly four decades ago, defended himself while speaking to parishioners at Wednesday morning Mass at St. Hugh near Carmichaels. While he professed his love of professional wrestling as a reason for those workout matches with boys and voiced concern that priests will now be targeted, not once in his 10-minute speech did he turn his attention to the more than 1,000 victims estimated to have been abused in Pennsylvania over seven decades. Several parishioners who spoke to a reporter after Mass defended him, but didn’t offer their own thoughts and prayers for the victims.
Meanwhile, the Rev. Daniel R. Waruszewski at Immaculate Conception acknowledged having a “heavy heart” about the report and told parishioners Wednesday to pray, “especially for the victims.” He added that “all dioceses are suffering.”
But it’s important to remember that the Roman Catholic Church isn’t the victim here. That designation should be focused on the thousands of little boys and girls in Pennsylvania who were molested and then silenced by church officials who put the organization above the teachings of Jesus Christ and the rule of law.