Pennsylvania bishop punishes predecessor over clergy abuse

Michael Rubinkam and Mark Scolforo
Associated Press
Former priest James Faluszczak, who says he was molested by a priest as a teenager, reacts as Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro speaks during a news conference at the Pennsylvania Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa., Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2018. A Pennsylvania grand jury says its investigation of clergy sexual abuse identified more than 1,000 child victims. The grand jury report released Tuesday says that number comes from records in six Roman Catholic dioceses. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

A Roman Catholic bishop in Pennsylvania on Friday barred one of his predecessors from representing the diocese in public, citing his failure to protect children from abusive priests.

Scranton Bishop Joseph Bambera announced the decision more than two weeks after the release of a grand jury report that faulted former Bishop James Timlin for his handling of clergy sexual abuse.

Timlin is permanently banned from representing the diocese “at all public events, liturgical or otherwise,” Bambera said in a statement. Bambera also referred Timlin’s case to the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops for possible further action.

“It is important that I make this very clear: Bishop Timlin did not abuse children, nor has he ever been accused of having done so. Instead, he mishandled some cases of abuse,” Bambera said. “He presided over the Diocese of Scranton for nearly 20 years – a time in which the diocese fell short of its duty to protect children. And, in many of the cases detailed in the grand jury report, Bishop Timlin fell short, too.”

The grand jury concluded that some 300 Roman Catholic priests in Pennsylvania molested more than 1,000 children in six Pennsylvania dioceses since the 1940s. The report accused senior church officials of orchestrating a systematic cover-up to protect the church from scandal.

Timlin, 91, who led the Scranton diocese from 1984 to 2003, permitted abusive priests to continue in ministry – including one who later tested positive for the HIV virus – transferred them to other parishes, and ignored his own policy to report them to civil authorities, according to the grand jury.

In a formal response to the grand jury, Timlin said he established procedures to handle clergy abuse cases but “recognizes that some of his past decisions regarding offenses were imperfect, and in hindsight regrets that his past judgments at the time caused a single day of pain to any victims.”

Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, meanwhile, came out Friday against a legislative proposal to compensate victims of child sexual molestation by priests through a church-established fund, saying that lawmakers instead should amend state law to let victims sue over abuse that happened decades ago.

Wolf said changes to the state’s statute of limitations and other proposals in the grand jury report “would deliver what victims deserve,” but a fund outside the court system would not.

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Wolf called on the Legislature to pass reforms recommended by the grand jury. The panel said the state should eliminate the criminal statute of limitations for child sexual abuse, give otherwise time-barred victims a two-year window to file lawsuits, clarify penalties for failing to properly report abuse and ban agreements that prohibit victims from cooperating with police.

Earlier this week, the top-ranking Republican in the state Senate, President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, floated the idea of a church-established victim fund, and some church officials have reacted positively.

On Friday, Scarnati’s top aide, Drew Crompton, said compensation funds have worked effectively in several states and argued a fund in Pennsylvania, administered by a third party, would compensate victims quickly. Crompton called the proposed two-year “window” for lawsuits “constitutionally questionable.”

GOP gubernatorial candidate Scott Wagner said he agreed with Wolf’s position on the fund proposal.

— Rubinkam reported from northeastern Pennsylvania. Scolforo reported from Harrisburg.