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Pennsylvania grand jury report exposes decades of clerical sex abuse and Church cover-up

Claire Chretien Claire Chretien Follow Claire

Doug Mainwaring contributed to this report.

HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania, August 14, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – A Pennsylvania grand jury released its much-awaited report today, identifying more than 300 sex abuser priests and detailing how six different dioceses “systematically” covered up their crimes for decades.

The abuse detailed is shocking: priests manufacturing child pornography based on religious imagery; a priest ejaculating in a seven-year-old’s mouth; a priest named Father Augustine Giella “regularly” collecting samples of “urine, pubic hair, and menstrual blood” from girls in a family he knew and ingesting those samples; boys raped and molested in rectories; a priest’s fondling of a fifth grade boy referred to simply as an “encounter” in diocesan records.

The cover-up “stretched, in some cases, all the way to the Vatican,” Attorney General Josh Shapiro, a Democrat, said at a press conference. The grand jury reviewed over half a million internal Church documents from the dioceses of Allentown, Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh, and Scranton.

“The cover-up was sophisticated, and all the while, Church leaders kept records” of the abuse, said Shapiro. Church officials themselves referred to these records as “secret archives” and they sat “just feet from the bishops’ desk.”

“Monsignors, Auxiliary Bishops, Bishops, Archbishops, Cardinals have also been protected,” said Shapiro. “Many, including some named in this report, have been promoted. Fr. Schlert, identified in the report, is now Bishop Schlert; Bishop Wuerl is now Cardinal Wuerl. Fr. Zubik is now Bishop Zubik.”

“Predator priests were allowed to remain in ministry for 10, 20, even 40 years after church leaders learned of their crimes,” he continued. “In those years their lists of victims got longer and longer.”

The grand jury found that dioceses lied repeatedly to protect their own interests above those of victims, sometimes “curbing their own investigations in order to avoid finding additional victims.”  

The grand jurors wrote that they believe their report on the 301 priests and their enablers is the largest of its kind: “By comparison, estimates of the number of abusive priests identified since 2002 in the Boston, Massachusetts archdiocese range from about 150 to 250.”

“Never on this scale” has such a grand jury report on clerical sex abuse been produced, it says.

Some names in the report are redacted, but “my office is not satisfied with the release of a redacted report,” said Shapiro, who promised to continue exposing the abuse.

“Our investigation into the Catholic Church remains ongoing,” he said.

“Even out of these hundreds of odious stories, some stood out,” the grand jury wrote. “There was the priest, for example, who raped a seven-year-old girl – while he was visiting her in the hospital after she'd had her tonsils out. Or the priest who made a nine-year-old give him oral sex, then rinsed out the boy's mouth with holy water to purify him. Or the boy who drank some juice at his priest's house, and woke up the next morning bleeding from his rectum, unable to remember anything from the night before.”

The report only includes damning information about the Church if related to child sex abuse: “we do not include files involving sex between priests and adults, substance abuse, or financial wrongdoing, unless these relate directly to abuse of children.”

Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington and successor to now ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, was the bishop of Pittsburgh from 1988 to 2006. His name is mentioned more than 200 times in the 884-page report (a PDF of the report is actually over 1,300 pages long).

Records showed that then-Bishop Wuerl wrote to the Vatican about a known abuser priest, saying Catholics had a right to know when an accused pedophile was assigned to their parish and noting the liability to the Church molester priests pose, especially after their actions are revealed to dioceses. Nevertheless, Wuerl allowed abuser Father Ernest Paone to be transferred to the Diocese of Reno-Las Vegas.

Wuerl’s successor, Bishop David Zubik, allowed that transfer to become final, according to the report.

Father Paone also bounced to the Diocese of San Diego. The report explains:

On July 29, 1996, Wuerl was informed by the Chancellor of the Diocese of San Diego that Paone had continued with his ministry, but, "acting on the advice of our insurance carrier," he was requesting that Wuerl complete the enclosed affidavit, which stated, among other things, that Paone has "not had any problems involving sexual abuse, any history of sexual involvement with minors or others, or any other inappropriate sexual behavior.”

On August 12, 1996, Wuerl directed Father Kozar, Secretary for Clergy and Religious, to respond to the request. Kozar then sent a confidential letter to the Diocese of San Diego and advised, among other things, that:

Father Paone has not had an assignment in this diocese for over thirty years. Thus, the only appropriate information about him has already been communicated to you in a letter from Father Robert Guay, Secretary for Clergy and Religious, dated January 30, 1996.

Paone again continued in ministry.

Paone was eventually, 41 years after the Diocese of Pittsburgh knew of the abuse he’d committed, removed from public ministry. He died in 2012.

“As I have made clear throughout my more than 30 years as a bishop, the sexual abuse of children by some members of the Catholic Church is a terrible tragedy, and the Church can never express enough our deep sorrow and contrition for the abuse, and for the failure to respond promptly and completely,” Wuerl said after the grand jury report was released.

“While I understand this Report may be critical of some of my actions, I believe the Report confirms that I acted with diligence, with concern for the victims and to prevent future acts of abuse,” he said. “I sincerely hope that a just assessment of my actions, past and present, and my continuing commitment to the protection of children will dispel any notions otherwise made by this report.”

Priests ‘used whips,’ manufactured child porn, used gold cross necklaces to identify boys who had been groomed

After being served with a subpoena in 2016 demanding records related to the sex abuse of minors, “some original documents related to deceased priests were intentionally destroyed by the Diocese.”

Pittsburgh’s Father George Zirwas was also implicated, with the grand jury reporting that the diocese knew about complaints against him for years while still shuffling him between parishes. Eventually he was placed on personal leave and moved to Cuba, where he was murdered in his apartment.

“During the course of this investigation, the Grand Jury uncovered a ring of predatory priests operating within the Diocese who shared intelligence or information regarding victims as well as exchanging the victims amongst themselves,” the report says. “This ring also manufactured child pornography on Diocesan property, including parishes and rectories. This group included: Zirwas, Francis Pucci, Robert Wolk, and Richard Zula. This group of priests used whips, violence and sadism in raping their victims.”

Zirwas took a child only identified as “George” to a parish rectory “in Munhall where the following priests were present: Father Francis L. Pucci, Father Richard Zula, and Father Francis Luddy of the Diocese of Altoona -Johnstown.”

The report goes on:

The priests began a conversation about religious statues and asked George to get up on a bed. As the priests watched, they asked George to remove his shirt. They then drew an analogy to the image of Christ on the cross, and told George to remove his pants so that his clothes would be more consistent with Christ in a loincloth. At that point, the priests began taking Polaroid pictures of George. As the picture taking continued, the priests directed George to take off his underwear. George was nervous and complied.

George recalled that either Zula or Pucci operated the camera. He stated that all of the men giggled and stated that the pictures would be used as a reference for new religious statues for the parishes. George testified that this occurred before he turned 18-years-old and that his genitals were exposed in the photographs. George stated that his photographs were added to a collection of similar photographs depicting other teenage boys.

George recalled that each of these priests had a group of favored boys who they would take on trips. The boys received gifts; specifically, gold cross necklaces. George stated, "He [Zirwas] had told me that they, the priests, would give their boys, their altar boys or their favorite boys these crosses. So he gave me a big gold cross to wear." The Grand Jury observed that these crosses served another purpose beyond the grooming of the victims: They were a visible designation that these children were victims of sexual abuse. They were a signal to other predators that the children had been desensitized to sexual abuse and were optimal targets for further victimization…

...George's testimony to the Grand Jury was one of the first times he had ever disclosed his abuse. The Grand Jury's review of records revealed that the Diocese was aware of the conduct of these predatory priests and the records corroborated George's testimony. It does not appear that the Diocese disclosed any information to the police during the prosecution of some of these offenders in the late 1980's. Moreover, it does not appear that the Diocese shared with the police Zirwas' s statement that he had information on other priests' criminal activity.

Bishop to rapist priest who pushed underage victim to have abortion: ‘I too share your grief’

Dozens of priests in the Diocese of Scranton sexually abused minors, the grand jury report revealed, and in that diocese, “most matters were personally handled by the bishop himself.”

“This sexual abuse included grooming and fondling of genitals and/or intimate body parts, as well as penetration of the vagina, mouth, or anus,” the jurors wrote. (This sentence appears at numerous other points in the report, describing the actions of priests of various dioceses.) “The evidence also showed that diocesan administrators, including the bishops, had knowledge of this conduct yet regularly placed the priests in ministry after the Diocese was on notice that a complaint of child sexual abuse had been made. This conduct enabled the offenders and endangered the welfare of children.”

The bishops who reigned during the time period the grand jury investigated are Bishop Jerome Hannan, Bishop J. Carroll McCormick, Bishop John O'Connor, Bishop James Timlin, Bishop Joseph Martino, and Bishop Joseph Bambera, who is the current bishop.

Financial settlements forbade victims from speaking out about the abuse they suffered, and “the Grand Jury received evidence that several Diocesan administrators, including the bishops, often dissuaded victims from reporting to police or, conducted their own deficient, biased investigation without reporting crimes against children to the proper authorities.”

One Diocese of Scranton priest, in 1961, invited boys into his room as he masturbated, but “the children ran away.”

Another Scranton priest raped an underage girl during the 1980s and helped her obtain an abortion.

“This is a very difficult time in your life, and I realize how upset you are. I too share your grief,” then-Bishop James Timlin wrote to the priest as he accepted his resignation from his parish after the diocese learned of the rape and abortion. “With the help of God, who never abandons us and who is always near when we need Him, this too will pass away, and all will be able to pick up and go on living. Please be assured that I am willing to do whatever I can to help.”

Bishop Timlin later wrote to the Vatican’s Cardinal Luigi Dadaglio, asking for a dispensation to reinstate the priest. All in all, it took about 20 years to remove the priest from public ministry after he impregnated a minor and procured her abortion.

Society of St. John brings pederasty to traditionalism

The report also reveals that pederasty isn’t a problem restricted just to the Church’s left wing or liturgical innovators and had a brush with a traditionalist community. The grand jury report details sexual abuse committed by priests of the now-suppressed Society of St. John, a group of priests who left the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) and lived with the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP). The FSSP was established as a way for the canonically irregular SSPX to be reconciled with Rome.

FSSP and SSPX parishes are a haven for tradition-loving Catholics who prefer the Church’s pre-1962 rites, and its priests have a reputation for orthodoxy and holiness (the SSPX’s canonical status remains irregular, despite inching closer to full reconciliation with Rome in recent years).

The report says:

In an effort to return disaffected members of the SSPX to membership in the Catholic Church, Bishop James C. Timlin [of the Diocese of Scranton] interviewed a group of men who claimed that they were seeking to return to the true church. The group of men called themselves the Society of St. John and included four priests: Carlos Urrutigoity, Eric Ensey, Daniel Fullerton and Marshall Roberts. There were no background checks or reviews of their seminary or priestly formation records at that time. Timlin presumed that the SSPX had prepared the men for ordination by adhering to the standards that were established by that organization. Father Urrutigoity and Father Ensey were subsequently incardinated into the Diocese. Timlin had the censures lifted and the priests took up residence with the FSSP in Elmhurst.

The FSSP established St. Gregory's Academy, a high school for boys, with FSSP headquarters located in the same building as the high school. While residing there, Ensey served as chaplain at the Academy during the 1997-1998 and the 1998-1999 school years. He and other members of the FSSP served as teachers at the Academy.

On May 24, 1998, Timlin issued a decree formally establishing the Society of St. John ("SSJ") as a public association of the faithful in the Diocese. SSJ informed Timlin of its intent to establish a Catholic community wherein lay people who were committed to the rites of the 1962 missal would live in close connection with the SSJ. The members also wanted to establish a college and Timlin approved this request. This decision went against the recommendation of Diocesan officials.

On September 16, 1999, SSJ, with Timlin's permission, purchased one thousand acres in Shohola, Pike County. The real estate was not placed in the Bishop's name as was the practice with all Diocesan property, however. Complaints were subsequently made to the Diocese that the SSJ was spending money beyond their means. Timlin, in turn, explored ways to assist the SSJ.

On September 15, 2001, Timlin was informed that Urrutigoity had made it a practice to sleep in the same bed with boys and young men. Timlin immediately questioned Urrutigoity who denied any immoral behavior. Urrutigoity did admit that there may have been occasions when overcrowded conditions prompted shared sleeping arrangements. Timlin ordered Urrutigoity to stop the behavior and the allegation was brought before the Diocesan Review Board. Because there was no specific complaint, however, the Board believed that Timlin's instruction was all that could be done.

On January 12, 2002, Timlin received correspondence from a representative of the Pope. Attached was a letter written by a victim's father accusing Urrutigoity and Ensey of sexual misconduct. Father Clay, who was staying at the Shohola property, was also accused. These allegations were investigated by the Lackawanna County District Attorney's Office. However, because the statute of limitations had expired, no criminal charges were filed against Urrutigoity and Ensey. Clay's case was referred to the Pike County District Attorney's Office but no criminal charges were ever filed.

The Diocese, along with Urrutigoity and Ensey, were ultimately sued by the minor victim. The victim received a $380,000 settlement.

Urrutigoity, Ensey and Clay were sent for clinical assessments and removed from active ministry, pending the outcome of the diocese investigation.

With respect to Ensey, the panel determined that Ensey did commit the grave delict of sexual abuse of a minor. The clinical assessments of Urrutigoity and Ensey resulted in the determination that neither one should be engaged in active ministry involving children.

Timlin reinstated Clay. Clay declined the appointment, however, and was granted a leave of absence. Clay ultimately moved to the Diocese of Fort Worth, Texas, where he became active in a Catholic Church.

While awaiting an investigation by the Diocese, Ensey travelled to Canada where it was learned that he was active in a Catholic Church. He was also involved in soliciting donations for the reinstatement of the SSJ in Paraguay.

Clay and Ensey' s participation in another Diocese after decrees had been issued whereby they were forbidden to be part of any active ministry created negative publicity both for the Diocese of Scranton and the Dioceses where they were living.

In May, 2003, the Society had a debt of $2,650,000. On July 25, 2003, the Holy See announced that Bishop Joseph Martino had been appointed to the See of Scranton. Prior to Martino' s installation, Timlin authorized an arrangement with PNC Bank wherein the Diocese guaranteed a loan in the amount of $2,650,000.

On November 19, 2004, Martino issued a decree suppressing the SSJ.

While awaiting the Diocesan investigation, Urrutigoity and Ensey requested to be excardinated from the Diocese so they could be incardinated by Bishop Livieres Plano into the Diocese of Ciudad del Este, Paraguay, with the hopes of re-establishing the SSJ. The request was initially denied. In 2008, however, Urrutigoity was excardinated from the Diocese and incardinated into the Diocese of Ciudad del Este, Paraguay. The Bishop of the Diocese of Ciudad del Este praised Urrutigoity, citing the letter written by Timlin wherein Timlin gave a glowing opinion of the SSJ and Urrutigoity. The SSJ was re-created in Paraguay and Urrutigoity was promoted to second in charge under Plano. In 2014, the Vatican initiated an investigation into Urrutigoity and Plano. Urrutigoity was removed as second in command and Plano was removed as Bishop.

‘Even decades ago, the church understood that the problem was prevalent’

“The repeating pattern of the bishops' behavior left us with no doubt that, even decades ago, the church understood that the problem was prevalent,” the grand jury report says. “Remember, when they were finally subpoenaed, the dioceses produced over half a million pages of documents. The abuse was occurring not only by its own people, but on its own property. Children were raped in places of worship, in schools, and in diocesan owned vehicles, and were groomed through diocesan programs and retreats.”

“The bishops weren't just aware of what was going on; they were immersed in it. And they went to great lengths to keep it secret. The secrecy helped spread the disease.”

“Unlike the Catholic Church, and some in law enforcement, we hear you,” Shapiro told victims.

The grand jury recommended that statutes of limitation on abusing children be eliminated, the creation of a “civil window” of recourse for now grown-up victims (the “interests of the Church and insurance companies have triumphed over the victims,” said Shapiro), and tougher mandatory reporting laws.

“We saw from diocesan records that church officials, going back decades, were insisting they had no duty to report to the government when they learned of child abuse in their parishes,” the report indicated. “New laws make it harder to take that position; but we want them tighter.”

The jurors also called for the law to ensure that confidentiality and non-disclosure agreements used to prevent victims from talking about clerical sex abuse allow them to talk to law enforcement about the crimes committed against them.

LifeSiteNews will continue to report on this in the coming days.

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