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As Pennsylvania Confronts Clergy Sex Abuse, Victims and Lawmakers Act


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As Pennsylvania Confronts Clergy Sex Abuse, Victims and Lawmakers Act

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I continue to find it ironic that American bishops presume to instruct us in moral matters. They seem to unaware of the passage (Matthew 7:5) in which Jesus says,

Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.

American bishops are fully charged up about the motes in the public eye but have for decades concealed the beam in their own.

Laurie Goodstein reports in the NY Times:

LORETTO, Pa. — By the age of 12, Maureen Powers, the daughter of a professor at the local Roman Catholic university, played the organ in the magnificent hilltop Catholic basilica here and volunteered in the parish office. But, she said, she was hiding a secret: Her priest sexually abused her for two years, telling her it was for the purpose of “research.”

By her high school years, she felt so tied up in knots of betrayal and shame that she confided in a succession of priests. She said the first tried to take advantage of her sexually, the second suggested she comfort herself with a daily candy bar and the third told her to see a counselor. None of them reported the abuse to the authorities or mentioned that she could take that step.

So when a Pennsylvania grand jury revealed in a report in March that the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown, which includes Loretto, engaged in an extensive cover-up of abuse by as many as 50 church officials, Ms. Powers, now 67, decided to finally report her case. She called the office of the Pennsylvania attorney general and recounted her story, including the name of her abuser, a prominent monsignor who was not listed in the grand jury report.

“I just felt like now, someone will believe me,” said Ms. Powers, who retired after 30 years in leadership positions at the Y.W.C.A. in Lancaster, Pa.

She was not alone. Ms. Powers was among more than 250 abuse survivors and tipsters who called a hotline set up by the Pennsylvania attorney general, Kathleen G. Kane. Twenty agents were needed to answer the phones, and a voice mailbox was set up to handle the overflow.

Nearly 15 years after Boston suffered through a clergy abuse scandal dramatized in the recent movie “Spotlight,” Pennsylvania is going through its own painful reckoning. From the State Capitol in Harrisburg to kitchens in railroad towns, people say they have been stunned to read evidence that priests they knew as pastors, teachers and confessors were secretly abusing children — findings the grand jury report called “staggering and sobering.” Victims are coming forward for the first time to family and friends, and alumni of parochial schools are pulling out their yearbooks, marveling at how smiling faces hid such pain.

Multiplying the outrage, the grand jury report supplied evidence that the police, district attorneys and judges in the Altoona and Johnstown area colluded with bishops in the cover-up, quashing the pleas of parents who tried to blow the whistle on priests who sexually abused children. Some of those officials are named in the report, and some still hold public office.

“It really hit home for me when I realized that these victims are my friends, my classmates,” said State Representative Frank Burns, a Democrat, whose district includes part of Johnstown and who attended Bishop McCort High School, where the grand jury found that the abuse was rampant. “Our region is devastated by drugs, suicide, alcoholism, and then you wonder — is this abuse tied into all of this?”

Bishop Mark L. Bartchak of Altoona-Johnstown, who cooperated with the grand jury’s investigation but did not see the report until it was released, tried to control the damage. He urged victims to call the attorney general’s hotline.

Bishop Bartchak declined to give an interview. But he said in a letter to his diocese last month: “There is no mistaking that what has been made public this past week is filled with the darkness of sin,” adding, “We will pass through this darkness.”

In Altoona’s massive cathedral, its dome looming over the nearby churches of other denominations, Bishop Bartchak ordered the removal of all banners and portraits honoring all the diocese’s bishops. His two most recent predecessors were depicted in the grand jury report as deeply culpable in having allowed known abusers to continue to have access to children. Bishop Bartchak removed five accused priests from ministry in the last year, while the grand jury was investigating, said Tony DeGol, the secretary for communications.

Nevertheless, in the state capital, calls for full disclosure and accountability suddenly have new momentum. State Representative Mike Vereb, a Republican and a former police officer from Philadelphia,wrote a letter recently to the United States attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania calling for an investigation under the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, known as RICO.

“This failure was colossal. It was nothing less than organized crime,” Mr. Vereb said in an interview in his office, where he keeps his old nightstick on his desk. “There was no chance, if you were a victim, that you were going to get justice.”

A flurry of negotiations has begun over bills that had been stalled for years to extend the statute of limitations for both civil and criminal cases of child sexual abuse. Abuse victims and their advocates have long argued that just as there is no statute of limitations on murder, there should be none on the sexual abuse of children. . .

Continue reading.

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One response

  1. Reblogged this on HumanSinShadow.

    April 4, 2016 at 10:06 pm

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