Bishop addresses media, explains report's findings

Wednesday, August 29, 2018 - Updated: 2:37 pm

By Ann Rodgers General Manager

Bishop David Zubik expressed his sorrow and apologized to victims of child sexual abuse by clergy, and also explained his diocese’s 30-year record of working to remove offenders, assist victims and prevent further abuse.

“Ever since I first met victims of clergy child sexual abuse in 1988, I have seen the immense pain that this crime causes to its victims, to their loved ones and to the heart of Jesus,” he said Tuesday. He spoke at a news conference in the Diocesan Pastoral Center shortly after the release of the “Report of the 40th Statewide Investigating Grand Jury.”

“I have cried with them and for them over the damage done to them and their families by men whose lives should have been committed to protecting their souls from harm. I dedicate myself to helping them and to doing everything possible to prevent such abuse from happening again.”

At least 90 percent of all reported child sexual abuse by clergy in the diocese occurred prior to 1990, he said.

“The Diocese of Pittsburgh today is not the church that is described in the grand jury report. It has not been for a long time. Over the course of the last 30 years, we have made significant changes to how we prevent abuse and report allegations,” the bishop said.

“There is no priest or deacon in public ministry today in the Diocese of Pittsburgh with a substantiated allegation of child sexual abuse against him.”

On Sept. 1, 2016, Bishop Zubik and the bishops of five other Latin-rite dioceses in Pennsylvania — Allentown, Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg and Scranton — received a subpoena requesting all records pertaining to child sexual abuse by clergy. The diocese turned over all records, including those where the allegation was deemed not credible, and those against religious-order priests who had lived or worked in the diocese. The records spanned more than 70 years.

At least 1,800 diocesan priests have served the Diocese of Pittsburgh since the first allegation from 1935. In its section on the Pittsburgh diocese, the grand jury report named 90 offenders. Of those, 22 priests or brothers did not belong to the diocese but to a religious order or another diocese. Also among the 90 are eight cases that the diocese did not substantiate as child sexual abuse. Another 29 of the cases involve allegations that were received after the priest had died, so that no canonical inquiry was made.

The diocese has now posted at www.diopitt.org a list of 83 accused diocesan priests, including some whom the grand jury report omitted. (See accompanying article.)

The report alleges that leaders of all of the dioceses covered up allegations of child sexual abuse by clergy.

“There were instances in the past, as outlined in this report, when the church acted in ways that did not respond effectively to victims. Swift and firm responses to allegations should have responded long before they did. For that I express profound regret,” Bishop Zubik said.

“At the same time, I express gratitude to survivors who have taught us to respond with compassion to those who are wounded and with determination to remove offenders from ministry.”

He said errors of the past reflected an ignorance common to many institutions concerning the devastating effects of child sexual abuse and the danger of offenders repeating the abuse.

“The decisions that we make today are different than the decisions made 20, 30, 40, 50, 60 or 70 years ago,” he said. “One of the things that is so troubling about all of this is that, in the earliest stages, when people heard about child sexual abuse, people had a hard time fathoming that it could happen. People had a hard time believing it.”

The use of ineffective measures in that era “wasn’t deliberate,” the bishop said. “A cover-up would have to be something that you intentionally did.”

He described his immediate predecessor, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, as “passionate about (ending) child sexual abuse.” Cardinal Wuerl took many aggressive actions, including battling the Vatican’s highest court in the early 1990s for the right to permanently remove sexually abusive priests from ministry, ultimately winning that fight in 1995.

“Since then it has been easier for all bishops” to remove abusers, he said. “That was a change that happened because Bishop Wuerl had the guts to say you can’t put these people back in ministry.”

The grand jury report, Bishop Zubik said, was incorrect when it claimed that Cardinal Wuerl had advocated a “circle of secrecy” around child sexual abuse. That phrase was jotted down by someone else, who was in the process of telling a priest that he would have to break his own “circle of secrecy” and disclose his past history of misconduct outside of his 12-step recovery group.

“I think when the grand jury was taking a look at it, they misinterpreted it,” he said.

Regarding some of the other inaccuracies and omissions in the report, Bishop Zubik urged people to read the official response and statement that the diocese filed with the Office of the Attorney General. Those are attached to the grand jury report. They are also at www.diopitt.org along with other explanatory documents.

Bishop Zubik outlined some of the steps that the diocese has taken over 30 years to remove offenders from ministry, offer assistance to victims and protect minors from future abuse. One important change in all dioceses was that the seminary curriculum was overhauled to better prepare men for a healthy celibate lifestyle.

In 1989, the Diocese of Pittsburgh established its Independent Review Board, which continues to evaluate and make recommendations to the bishop regarding allegations of child sexual abuse. In 1993, the diocese hired a licensed social worker who continues to meet with victims and respond to their needs. The diocese offers psychological counseling for victims and their families with the licensed therapist of their choice.

Since at least 1993, the diocese has encouraged victims to contact civil authorities, and since 2002 the diocese has reported cases directly.

Over the course of 15 years, the Diocese of Pittsburgh has conducted child protection workshops and online training for more than 70,000 clergy, employees and volunteers in its churches, schools and institutions. Those same people have all completed background checks.

Bishop Zubik also explained actions that the diocese is taking to ensure that its efforts to prevent and address child sexual abuse remain strong.

In addition to posting the names of accused diocesan priests, the diocese has engaged an expert on the prevention and prosecution of child sexual abuse to thoroughly review its practices and make recommendations for improvement.

That expert, Shay Bilchik, is former president of the Child Welfare League of America and has extensive experience as a state and federal prosecutor specializing in crimes against children. He has already begun a preliminary review.

The diocese has also created a position and will hire an experienced professional to actively monitor clergy who have been removed from ministry following allegations of child sexual abuse.

Bishop Zubik also addressed four legislative goals that Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro called for. The bishop supported eliminating the criminal statute of limitations for child sexual abuse, and also affirmed penalties for failing to report child abuse to civil authorities. Regarding the request to end confidentiality agreements for victims who make settlements, he said the Diocese of Pittsburgh has considered its past agreements void since 2002.

He also addressed Shapiro’s call for a two-year window in which anyone who had a time-barred claim of child sexual abuse could file a lawsuit. Shapiro said victims wanted this so they could pay for counseling.

Bishop Zubik explained that for at least three decades the diocese has paid for victims to receive counseling from a licensed therapist of their choice. “We have a long track record of giving people as much help as possible, in many cases it goes on for years,” he said.

But, he continued, any change in the law must apply equally to all victims, not just those who were abused within a Catholic setting, “if we’re really going to say that we’re serious about helping victims to heal. Whatever measures are worked out have to be worked out between all the institutions of society,” he said.

Asked what he has to say to Catholics who feel betrayed, the bishop responded, “So do I. I feel betrayed. I was ordained a priest 43 years ago. The goal of my life as a priest, when I said ‘yes’ to becoming a priest, was that I was going to reflect the person of Jesus Christ. The fact that other people who said ‘yes’ did the things that are recounted in this report is a tragedy. And I am scandalized as well.”

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