Friday, August 02, 2019 - Updated: 12:38 pm
At their first meeting July 23, members of the diocese’s Church Healing Commission committed themselves to helping Bishop David Zubik fulfill his pledges of transparency and accountability in helping victims/survivors of sexual abuse.
Bishop Zubik created the advisory group to assist him in monitoring progress on a five-point action plan outlined in his recent pastoral letter, “The Church Healing.” Members come from a variety of relevant backgrounds, including therapists who work with victims-survivors of child sexual abuse; health care and parish ministries; law enforcement; and the legal community. Among them are people who are Catholic and non-Catholic.
“Bishop Zubik clearly articulated an enormous amount of concern for victims of any kind of abuse,” said the Rev. John Aupperle, a retired senior pastor of Baldwin Community United Methodist Church. “Commission members are very much committed to results and take seriously the mandate to develop a greater trust within the (Catholic) church.”
“We are bound by a common desire for healing and to bring people back to the church,” said Jennifer Antkowiak, a former KDKA-TV news anchor and member of St. Maurice Parish in Forest Hills. “A lot of people are working very hard to make sure people are safe.”
The diocese is on schedule with the action plan, establishing a survivors’ support group, implementing healing programs in parishes and improving a child safety course in Catholic schools and parish faith formation programs.
Commission chairwoman Jane Sarra, head of the diocesan Secretariat for the Protection of Children, Youth and Vulnerable Adults, provided members with detailed information on how the diocese has strengthened its longstanding child protection policies and procedures.
“When we reviewed the five points and deadlines associated with each, the commission was impressed that we were on track to fulfill the bishop’s promises,” Sarra said. “It is gratifying that several elements of the bishop’s action plan have had positive results, demonstrating how the Church of Pittsburgh will continue our outreach to all people.”
Commission members stressed the need to continue to keep parishioners and the public aware of progress on the action plan.
Tom Lynch, former FBI supervisory special agent and Pennsylvania State Police trooper, said any allegations must be acted upon immediately and investigated completely.
“I have spent nearly three decades in law enforcement trying to protect the vulnerable, give a voice to the oppressed and search for what I call ‘the one truth,’” Lynch said. “What I read in the (PA grand jury) report is appalling and can never happen again.”
Jenna Rowles-Romito, a member of St. Bernadette Parish in Monroeville and a licensed professional therapist who has counseled victims of violence, said she is hurting for those who were abused.
“My Catholic faith has brought me immense joy and peace throughout my lifetime,” Rowles-Romito said. “It makes me sad that there were many children who didn’t have the same experience in the church that I had growing up.
“I’m optimistic we can create healing and bring these wounded souls back to the church and in a relationship with God,” she said. “We will keep people aware of what we are doing in addressing the action plan.”
“As we move forward to strengthen our longtime efforts to respond to allegations, protect children and support victims/survivors, it’s important to have experts from outside our own circles who will advise me on implementing best practices,” Bishop Zubik said. “These commission members should have the gratitude of the entire diocese for assisting us with their professional skills to help us help vulnerable children and young people.”
Other commission members are youth minister Emily Belchick; safe environment coordinator Sherry Cherry; educator Michael Daniels; attorney James Doerfler; compliance administrator Patricia Mazar; the Rev. Jill McGregor, Lutheran pastor; Sister Rita Murillo, public defender in the juvenile court system; and child abuse expert Tracy Walnoha.
The pastoral letter, including the five-point action plan, is posted on the diocesan website at www.diopitt.org/churchhealing.