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Catholic Church Urges Sexual Abuse Victims to Come Forward
ERIE, Pa. (EYT) – Catholic officials are continuing to encourage those who may have endured sexual abuse, but remained silent, to come forward as the church seeks to heal from the most recent round of abuse scandals that have plagued the institution.
(PHOTO: Bishop Lawrence T. Persico of the Erie Diocese.)
“This is a very difficult time for the Catholic Church,” Bishop Lawrence T. Persico of the Erie Diocese said, “but, we must face the truth. In collaboration with law enforcement, victims are finding their voice and helping us to ensure we are living out the principles we proclaim.”
“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.”
In the wake of the release of the findings of a statewide investigative grand jury that revealed more than 300 “Predator Priests” allegedly abused children while serving in active ministry with the Catholic Church, the Erie Diocese has continued to encourage any individual who has experienced sexual abuse or misconduct by a member of the clergy or employee or volunteer of the church to contact law enforcement.
Abuse can also be reported directly to the independent investigators retained by the Diocese of Erie by emailing ErieRCD@KLGates.com, and victims or concerned individuals are invited to contact the diocese directly to report abuse at 814-451-1543. The diocese also regularly reminds parishioners that anyone can directly report suspected abuse of minors by anyone to PA ChildLine by calling 800-932-0313. PA ChildLine is open 24 hours per day, seven days per week, and callers can choose to remain anonymous.
The Erie Diocese is also offering counseling assistance for victims and their families through the diocesan victim assistance coordinator, Dr. Robert Nelsen, who can be reached at 814-451-1521.
“The Victim Assistance Coordinator does just that, he coordinates. People call in and usually the coordinator will speak to them by phone or meet with them and from there on he will direct them to other professionals who can provide counseling or therapy,” Monsignor Edward Lohse, Vicar General for the Diocese of Erie, told exploreClarion.com on Monday.
“He doesn’t provide it himself; he serves as the point of contact. He can put them in touch with people who can help, professionals, and we cover the costs of those services.”
Although the findings of the initial grand jury report were shocking and devastating to the Catholic Church, investigators believe they may have just scratched the surface.
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro (pictured below) says there is still more to be revealed, as the initial grand jury report released was an interim, redacted version of the full report.
On Wednesday, September 26, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court heard oral arguments involving the publication of the 40th Statewide Investigating Grand Jury’s Report on child sexual abuse by priests in the Catholic Church. At issue before the Court was the publication of the full, unredacted Report of the Grand Jury, including the names of every predator priest as identified by the Grand Jury during its two-year investigation.
Attorney General Shapiro issued the following statement following the conclusion of the oral argument before the Court:
“The Office of Attorney General supports the release of a full, unredacted Report by the Grand Jury in its entirety,” Attorney General Shapiro said. “Every name of a predator priest left redacted means the silencing of a victim’s voice.”
“The Grand Jury Act is the vital tool for uncovering corruption in large, powerful organizations. Today we fought to protect that tool and to have the full report released to the public so that every victim’s story is told”.
Locally, the initial grand jury report includes accusations against the following individuals:
- Father Donald Cooper (deceased) who served at St. Charles in New Bethlehem, PA, from 6/1975-11/1984;
- Monsignor James P. Hopkins (deceased) who served as Pastor at St. Titus Church in Titusville, PA, during an unknown time and as Pastor at an unknown church in East Brady, PA during the 1920s;
- Reverend Joseph W. Jerge (deceased) who served as Parochial Vicar at St. Joseph, Oil City, PA from 5/23/1959 – 8/29/1964;
- Father Gerard Krebs (deceased) who served in Secondary Education at Venango Christian High School in Oil City, PA from 7/26/1964 – 6/3/1970, as Weekend Assistant at St. Stephen’s in Oil City, PA from 7/26/1964 – 6/3/1970, and was a resident of St. Stephen’s Rectory in Oil City, PA from 6/3/1970 – 9/8/1970;
- Father Salvatore Luzzi who served as Faculty at Venango Christian High and resided at St. Joseph, Oil City, PA from 6/09/1962 – 8/29/1968;
- Monsignor Daniel Martin (deceased) who served as Pastor at St. Joseph in Oil City, PA from 1970 – 1974;
- Reverend John L. Murray who served as Special Ministry and as Headmaster at DuBois Central Catholic HS from 8/27/1966 – 1/31/1969 and served at St. Bernard as Administration with Residence in Falls Creek, PA 6/16/1967 – 10/15/1968;
- Father Jan Olowin who served at St. Joseph in Oil City, PA from 8/25/1986 – 11/07/1992, at St. Michael in Emlenton, PA from 8/22/2008 – 8/31/2012, and as Chaplain at Clarion University of Pennsylvania from 8/22/2008 – 8/31/2012;
- Reverend John A. Piatkowski (deceased) who served at Assumption Church in Sykesville, PA from 5/22/1948 – 11/16/1970;
- Reverend Samuel B. Slocum, who served as Secondary Education at DuBois C.C. High School in DuBois, PA from 6/05/1980 – 8/12/1983, as Weekend Asst. at St. Michael in DuBois, PA from 6/05/1980 – 8/12/1983, and as Administrator at St. Benedict in Ridgway, PA from 1/05/1985 – 6/14/1985;
- Monsignor Thomas Snyderwine who served as Weekend Asst. at St. Michael in DuBois, PA from 6/05/1968 – 6/03/1971, as Faculty at DuBois Central Catholic in DuBois, PA from 6/05/1968 – 6/03/1971, and as Administrator at St. Joseph in DuBois, PA from 1/01/1970 – 6/01/1970;
- Father Chester Gawronski who served at St. Joseph in Oil City from 06/1976 – 09/1978;
- Father William Presley who served at St. Cosmas and Damian in Punxsutawney from 05/1956 – 06/1965, at Immaculate Conception in Brookville from 05/1971 – 08/1971, and at Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Sykesville from 04/1990 – 07/2000 (three separate assignments);
- Father Thomas Smith who served at St. Patrick in Franklin from 06/03/1970 – 02/12/1971, at St. Cosmas and St. Damian in Punxsutawney from 06/23/1978 – 06/01/1981, and at St. Joseph in DuBois from 10/23/1984 – 02/05/1985; and
- Father David L. Poulson who served as Pastor, St. Michael, Fryburg, PA from 6/07/2000 – 6/30/2006 and as Pastor at St Michael again (2nd 6-year term) in Fryburg, PA from 7/01/2006 – 11/08/2010.
Jury selection in the case of Fr. David Poulson, of Oil City, one of only two cases in Pennsylvania currently being prosecuted, is scheduled for February 11, 2019, at 9:00 a.m., followed by a jury trial.
In July, another local name was added to the seemingly never-ending list of Catholic clergymen and laymen “credibly accused” of sexual misconduct.
The Diocese of Erie announced that allegations were brought forth against Father William A. Rice, retired and living in Fryburg, Pa.
Rice is accused of sexual harassment involving both children and adults. Following diocesan policy, law enforcement was informed, an independent investigation was launched, and Bishop Persico placed him on administrative leave. Father Rice has been informed he is to refrain from all public ministry while the investigation continues. He is to have no contact with children.
Rice served at St. Michael parish in Fryburg.
His name was not one of those released by the grand jury.
While the fight for full disclosure, the current legal cases, and the continuing diocese investigations move forward throughout Pennsylvania following grand jury investigation, law enforcement in a number of other states are also initiating their own investigations.
According to the National Catholic Register, officials in New Jersey, New York, Maryland, Vermont, Illinois, Missouri, Michigan, Nebraska, and New Mexico have already initiated probes into the response of dioceses in their states to any allegations of sexual misconduct, while police in Wyoming have reopened a case against a former bishop, and attorney generals in Florida and Kentucky have made moves toward beginning formal inquiries into various allegations against clergymen.
It is uncertain at this time how many individual cases, and how many victims, these investigations may reveal. The grand jury report in Pennsylvania reported there were over 1,000 identifiable child victims of sexual abuse by over 300 priests in six of the eight dioceses in the state but also advised that “there were likely to be thousands more.”
Following the earlier revelations of abuse in the Catholic Church in 2002 after a series of publications by the Boston Globe, John Jay College of Criminal Justice was commissioned by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) to conduct a comprehensive study based on surveys completed by Roman Catholic dioceses across the country.
Known as the John Jay Report, the study indicated that between the years of 1950 and 2002, around 11,000 allegations had been made against over 4,300 priests, approximately 4% of the priests serving during that time, in the United States. The John Jay Report was also updated again in 2010. The complete report is available online.
In June 2002, the USCCB unanimously instituted the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. The charter documents procedures for addressing allegations of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy and also includes guidelines for reconciliation, healing, accountability, and prevention of future acts of abuse. It was revised in 2005, 2011, and 2018.
Since the charter was instituted, victims have continued to come forward, and more cases have entered the legal system. Msgr. William J. Lynn, of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, was the first senior official in the U.S. convicted of covering up the sexual abuse of children by priests. He was sentenced to three to six years in prison in 2012 on child endangerment charges after it was discovered he was reassigning known abusers to new parishes rather than following the charter standards for addressing abuse and preventing future abuse.
While there are some criminal cases still being processed, there have also been a number of jury awards and settlements to victims of abuse, as well. Estimates on the total from settlements of sex abuse cases between 1950 and 2012 range from two to three billion dollars, and those number will most likely continue to climb.
The Catholic Bishops of Pennsylvania has also spoken out on the issue recently in support of Pennsylvania’s efforts to help survivors and families.
“We cannot undo the harm that childhood sexual abuse has caused, but in humility and repentance we hope the path forward offers a way toward healing for survivors and their families,” said the organization in a Sept. 21 statement.
The full statement can be read here.
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