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Bishop Persico Issues Letter on One-Year Anniversary of Grand Jury Report

Saturday, August 17, 2019 @ 01:08 AM

Posted by Aly Delp

catholic-churchERIE, Pa. (EYT) – Bishop Lawrence T. Persico of the Diocese of Erie issued a letter this week on the one-year anniversary of the release of the grand jury report on sexual abuse in the Catholic Church in Pennsylvania.

Here is the full text of the letter, which Persico asked to have read Sunday, August 18, in all churches in the Diocese.

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

One year ago today, I offered my first response to the release of the 40th Pennsylvania Statewide Grand Jury Report. The statement I made was offered directly to survivor/victims — those who had waited so long for the unthinkable experiences they had endured to be brought to light.

It was devastating for me, as the pastor of this diocese, to see the ugly details of what had happened within the church. I knew that survivor/victims, as well as all Catholics and the entire community, would need time to grapple with the report. Their deep pain, anger and grief was understandable.

My apology is only one step in the long and complex process of healing. I know words mean very little without action. The Diocese of Erie has taken many important steps in the last year, and will continue on this path.

I have released numerous statements about our efforts throughout the year. One of the most significant steps we took as a diocese was the creation of an Independent Survivors Reparation Fund for survivor/victims. To date, 52 survivor/victims have applied to the fund and 23 claims totaling $3 million have been paid out. It is likely many survivor/victims have waited until this final week of the fund to file their claims. Once the last claims are brought to closure, I will make public a final report about the fund.

Some could be tempted to want to close this chapter of our history and move on, but that would be a disservice not only to survivor/victims, but also to the faithful who fill our pews every Sunday. As with any event that has had a broad impact on so many people, it must be remembered, in part, to ensure that the changes we make in the church and in our world are deep and lasting.

That is why I am once again calling for a day of prayer in the Diocese of Erie on the memorial of Our Mother of Sorrows, Sunday, Sept. 15. I am asking that pastors open the doors of all of their churches that day from 7 am to 7 pm. I invite people to visit a Catholic church and spend time in prayer in whatever way the Holy Spirit moves them. We need to pray for survivor/victims. We need to pray for the healing and purification of the church. We need to pray for the many good and holy priests who continue to serve faithfully. And we need to pray that our own faith be strengthened.

This year, I also am asking that parishes, either individually or in groups, promote opportunities for Eucharistic adoration with the special intentions of victim/survivors, the healing of the church, and the sanctification of the clergy.

I have been inspired and grateful that many Catholics have demonstrated true discipleship, witnessing to their faith in the past year. They have shown what it means to be charitable, to forgive and to live in hope. And they have understood how important this moment has been for survivor/victims.

It is clear that bringing about healing and rebuilding trust is the work we are being called to do as church. It will take time, patience and fidelity, but the Lord will provide the grace we need. With every confidence in that grace, I look forward to the work that needs to be accomplished during the second half of my tenure as bishop of the Diocese of Erie.

Sincerely yours in Christ,
Lawrence T. Persico
The Most Reverend Lawrence T. Persico, JCL Bishop of Erie

August 15, 2019, was the one-year anniversary of the release of the comprehensive findings of a statewide investigative grand jury that spent two years uncovering abuse of children by priests and a systematic cover-up spanning decades by senior church leaders in Pennsylvania and the Vatican.

The grand jury found:

– 301 Catholic priests identified as predator priests who sexually abused children while serving in active ministry in the church.

– Detailed accounts of over 1,000 children victimized sexually by predator priests with the grand jury noting it believed the real number of victims was in the “thousands.”

– Senior-church officials, including bishops, monsignors, and others, knew about the abuse committed by priests but routinely covered it up to avoid scandal, criminal charges against priests, and monetary damages to the dioceses.

– Priests committed acts of sexual abuse upon children and were routinely shuttled to other parishes while parishioners were left unaware of sexual predators in their midst.

Read the full grand jury Diocese victim report here.

Following the initial grand jury report, the Diocese of Erie released its own Public Disclosure List.

The original April 6, 2018, publication included 51 names of persons who were credibly accused of actions that, in the diocese’s judgment, “disqualify each person from working with children.” It was promised that additional names would be added to the list as new information came to light.

Since then, the list has been updated five times, most recently on Friday, April 5, 2019, when four laypersons and a former priest were added to the list of credibly accused, and three individuals were added to the list of those Under Investigation.

Under Investigation

Newest Names ADDED:

• Fr. Stephen A. Anderson — deceased
• Michael L. DiFrancisco — deceased
• Msgr. Conrad L. Kraus — deceased (former administrator at St. Michael Church in Emlenton)

Monsignor Kraus – who served as the administrator at St. Michael the Archangel Roman Catholic Church in Emlenton from 2001 to 2009 – is currently listed as under investigation, and no additional information was provided.

Note: Each individual under investigation is presumed innocent unless proved otherwise.

The following individuals are also on the list of under investigation:

• Fr. Sean P. Kerins — Erie, Pa.
• Fr. Richard D. Lynch — deceased
• Msgr. H. Desmond McGee — DuBois, Pa.
• Frank J. Mariella, Sr. — deceased
• Fr. Jan C. Olowin — retired, Peoria, Arizona
• Fr. Robert A. Pudlo (failed to act to stop abuse which was credibly reported to him) — deceased
• Fr. William A. Rice — retired, Fryburg, Pa.
• Msgr. L. Thomas Snyderwine — retired, Erie, Pa.

Credible Allegations

Newest Names ADDED:

• Jonathan J. Borkowski — Fairview, Pa., former lay employee – previously under investigation
• Albert S. Davies, Former lay teacher – deceased
• Former Fr. Thomas M. Lechner — Sewickley, Pa. – Laicized, previously under investigation
• Ann Marie Hanes (Strall) — Spokane, Washington, Former lay teacher
• Robert D. Viszneki — Erie, Pa., Former parish volunteer – previously awaiting trial, now awaiting sentencing

Modification made to an existing name on the list:

• Fr. Edward W. Jungquist was thought to be deceased. He is now listed as “whereabouts unknown.”

Jungquist, who served as parochial vicar at St. Titus in Titusville from 1984 through the late 1980s or possibly early 1990s, was thought to be deceased. He is now listed as “whereabouts unknown,” and is forbidden to function as a priest.

Diocese of Erie to Continue Investigations Brough Forth

The Diocese of Erie, in collaboration with its independent investigators at the Pittsburgh-based K&L Gates law firm, will continue investigating all allegations brought forth.

The Diocese of Erie’s Independent Survivors’ Reparation Program opened on February 15, 2019, and continued to accept claims through August 15, 2019.

The full list of those accused can be found at www.ErieRCD.org/childprotection/disclosure.html.

Explanation of the Investigative Process and Under Investigation Category

The Diocese of Erie has retained independent investigators to pursue allegations of abuse and other wrongdoing regarding the protection of children and youth including failure to report/act to stop abuse. Reports from alleged victims will always result in some form of investigative response. To be clear, all reports of abuse made to the diocese are submitted to both law enforcement and the independent investigators in a timely fashion as a matter of course. The independent investigators and/or law enforcement officials will communicate to the diocese their assessment of the credibility of an allegation, which the diocese considers in determining who will be listed on the public disclosure website.

Initial investigation steps (whether by law enforcement or independent investigators) are generally non-public. If these steps corroborate the essential facts of the initial report, the diocese will indicate that an individual is under investigation. The names of living individuals under investigation are published to prevent potential further harm to children or vulnerable adults. The names of deceased individuals are published to determine if additional victims or witnesses may exist who can help to resolve the investigation. A court order, a request from law enforcement, or some other extenuating circumstance may stop this publication until further proceedings or investigations occur. As such, the independent investigators will defer to law enforcement to ensure that law enforcement’s investigative efforts are not prejudiced.

As the independent investigators conduct their investigation, they are free to investigate any action that may, by law or in the judgment of the diocese, disqualify a person from working with children, regardless of whether the action could be secularly prosecuted. They are not bound by criminal or civil statutes of limitation. They may also consider any evidence they deem relevant, regardless of whether it would be admissible in a secular court proceeding.

Consistent with the interests of protecting victims, children, and vulnerable adults, and of putting the public on notice in a timely manner, the diocese seeks to resolve investigations in the most expedient manner possible, in order to positively identify those individuals who can be deemed “credibly accused” and to remove the names of those who have been wrongfully implicated.

Removal from the Under Investigation Category:

An investigation can resolve itself in either of two ways: the allegation is determined to be credible or the allegation is found to be unsubstantiated.

An individual will be moved from “under investigation” to the list of “credibly accused” if there is credible evidence indicating the individual should not be working with children or youth that is sufficient to outweigh any contrary evidence.

Examples include (1) a secular law-enforcement or child-protective government body concludes guilt, (2) multiple credible unrelated accusers exist, (3) the accused admits guilt, (4) contemporaneous corroborating historical reports of misconduct or disciplinary action exist, or (5) the subject refuses to cooperate with the investigation after being put on notice as to the existence of a report of abuse.

By contrast, a person may be removed from the “under investigation” list if there is conclusive evidence of misidentification, if no corroborating evidence is discovered even after the public is invited to come forward with relevant information, or if credible evidence is found to refute the essential facts contained in the allegation. In such cases, the diocese will work to restore the individual’s good name.

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