Harrisburg Diocese IDs 71 alleged sex abusers, cites bishops’ failure
A Roman Catholic diocese on Wednesday identified 71 priests and other members of the church who had been accused of child sex abuse and said it was holding accountable the bishops who led the church for the past 70 years, announcing their names will be stripped from all church properties.
At a news conference to detail the church’s actions, Harrisburg Bishop Ronald Gainer apologized to those who were abused, the Catholic faithful and the community and expressed his “profound sorrow.”
“Many of those victimized as children continue to suffer as survivors from the harm they experienced,” said the bishop, who was appointed in 2014.
With its announcement, the Harrisburg Diocese became the second of six dioceses under investigation by the state to get out in front of a pending grand jury report on clergy sex abuse. The Erie Diocese released its own findings on clergy abuse in April.
The release of the nearly 900-page state grand jury report has been held up by challenges by some priests and former priests. The state Supreme Court ruled last week a version with some names blacked out can be made public as early as next week. The court said it identified more than 300 “predator priests” in the six dioceses.
Gainer said that the Harrisburg Diocese was making public the names of all those who faced allegations of child sex abuse but that it did not determine whether they all had merit, though some of those on the list have been convicted of crimes. He said no one on the list is currently in the ministry.
In a public letter, Gainer said shortcomings in past investigations and record-keeping made it difficult in many cases to assess credibility or guilt or even determine the underlying conduct. In a few instances, people who were cleared of allegations by the diocese or police were not listed.
The Harrisburg list includes 37 priests, three deacons and six seminarians from the diocese, nine clergy members from other dioceses and 16 from religious communities. Gainer said the conduct was classified as indecent behavior, inappropriate behavior such as kissing and inappropriate communication with children.
Most of the allegations date from the 1970s, ‘80s and ‘90s, the diocese said.
Gainer said church leadership had failed to protect children by not adequately responding to all the allegations of sexual misconduct over the years.
State Rep. Mark Rozzi, a Democrat from the Reading area, called the decision a step toward transparency and urged Gainer and other church leaders to support legislation to eliminate the statute of limitations on civil and criminal child abuse cases.
“They’ve done all this on the heels of the grand jury report coming out. Still, nonetheless, they did it and that part is great,” he said. Rozzi, who was sexually abused by a priest as a boy, supports legislation to repeal the time limits on lawsuits and criminal charges, and to establish a two-year window during which lawsuits from past abuse could be filed.
The Harrisburg diocese is compiling a list of buildings and other properties named to honor clergy members and plans to remove the names of anyone accused of abuse, including all bishops going back to 1947.
The church also is waiving any confidentiality rights the diocese obtained while reaching abuse settlements over the years, Gainer said. The number of such settlements and their dollar values were not disclosed.
The church is adopting a series of new procedures to deal with complaints and to help protect against future abuse, the bishop said.
Any new complaint will be immediately forwarded to local authorities, background checks will be conducted on people working for the church, including volunteers, and all employees will be required to take part in training on how to recognize and report abuse, the diocese said.
Court documents have revealed that the pending state grand jury report, the work of a two-year investigation, includes allegations of obstruction of justice by people “associated with the Roman Catholic Church, local public officials and community leaders.”
In its report this spring, the Erie Diocese identified more than 50 priests and lay people accused of child sexual abuse.
The other dioceses investigated are in Pittsburgh and Greensburg in the western part of the state and Allentown and Scranton in the east. They collectively minister to more than 1.7 million Catholics.
Previous investigations have found widespread sexual abuse by priests in the state’s two other dioceses, Philadelphia and Altoona-Johnstown.