Monday, September 19, 2016

Six of state's eight Catholic dioceses under investigation

Four more Catholic dioceses — Erie, Greensburg, Pittsburgh and Scranton — have been swept into a grand jury investigation of clergy sex abuse and cover-up allegations in communities stretching from the Delaware River to the Monongahela.

On Friday, officials in all four dioceses confirmed they received subpoenas from the Pennsylvania attorney general's office. Their confirmations come a day after the Harrisburg Diocese told the newspaper that it, too, had gotten a subpoena.

The Allentown Diocese also is part of the grand jury probe, according to a state lawmaker who testified before the grand jury in Pittsburgh. Allentown diocesan officials have declined to comment on the probe.

State prosecutors have been taking testimony in Pittsburgh for months in a wide-ranging investigation that started with a scathing March report detailing allegations of abuse by about 50 priests and other religious leaders in the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese and a cover-up by church officials.

Only the Allentown Diocese has not confirmed receipt of the subpoena. 

After Mass Saturday evening at St. Ann's church in Emmaus, where the pastor was charged days earlier with possessing child pornography, Allentown Bishop John O. Barres refused to address a Morning Call reporter's questions about the subpoena and probe.
Pittsburgh Bishop David Zubik issued a statement Friday evening saying that with its subpoena, the diocese received a letter from Deputy Attorney General Daniel Dye, which said, "Our efforts do not have to be adversarial. ... Our work to protect children and seek the truth should be a joint endeavor."

Zubik noted he agreed with Dye, adding, "In the ongoing need to protect children from abuse, I welcome the opportunity to work closely with the state attorney general's office."

The Greensburg Diocese in southwestern Pennsylvania "received a subpoena from the statewide investigative grand jury," spokesman Jerry Zufelt said in a statement.

"The diocese is cooperating, and will continue to cooperate, with law enforcement officials in this matter," Zufelt said. "The Diocese of Greensburg takes the protection of all children and young people seriously. Names and facts of any allegation of misconduct will continue to be reported immediately to the proper civil authorities."

Scranton Diocese spokesman Bill Genello also confirmed the subpoena, saying in a statement: "In its commitment to protecting children and young people and to providing support to victims of sexual abuse, the Diocese of Scranton cooperates fully with all civil authorities in their investigation of such matters."

An Erie spokeswoman also confirmed a subpoena.

Allentown spokesman Matt Kerr said Friday the diocese would have no further comment beyond the statement it released Thursday.

It read in part: "The Diocese of Allentown is committed to the protection and safety of children and young people. To this end, it is the policy of the Diocese of Allentown to cooperate with law enforcement."

On Tuesday, Monsignor John Stephen Mraz, pastor of St. Ann's in Emmaus, was charged with viewing and downloading child pornography after the diocese reported to state and county authorities that a parishioner found images on Mraz's computer that made him feel "uncomfortable," court records say.

The Altoona-Johnstown Diocese did not get a subpoena because the attorney general's office released its grand jury report of that region in March. The report led to charges against three Franciscan friars for alleged child endangerment and criminal conspiracy. 

The agency also set up a hotline for people to call to report abuse claims across the state.

Likewise, the Philadelphia Archdiocese, the state's largest Catholic division, is not part of the new investigation. 

Since 2003, city prosecutors had two grand juries and issued three reports that uncovered allegations of sexual abuse against hundreds of priests that church officials never reported to law enforcement.

The attorney general's office does not comment on secret grand jury matters, agency spokesman Jeffrey Johnson said. However, he added, the hotline has generated hundreds of calls and remains open.

The statewide probe was revealed Thursday by The Morning Call, citing state Rep. Mark Rozzi, D-Berks, who said he recently testified before the grand jury. On Friday, Rozzi, who says he was abused by an Allentown Diocese priest in 1984, called police after a man phoned his office with threatening comments.

"We just had a really overzealous constituent who is very Catholic, who called and was making crazy remarks to my staff," Rozzi said. "He's called before and my staff was just very concerned. We wanted to make sure we alerted Capitol police and local police."

There is a lot of blame to go around for why a grand jury is probing dioceses, said Gregory P. Lloyd, a Catholic from Whitehall Township who runs an organization dedicated to restoring church tradition.

"The church is at fault for inadequate preparation or unfaithful teaching of young men in the Christian way to serve others, principally by self-sacrifice while in seminary," he said. "There is a long period of preparation of a man, to cure him of what ails every human being, before he can be sent to serve, and heal, others."

At the same time, he added, given that former state Attorney General Kathleen Kane resigned after being found guilty of perjury, the office can not be trusted to conduct a fair investigation. He also takes issue with why it would target this one institution.

Grand jury investigations are the only way to uncover abuses that were allowed to happen for decades, said the Rev. Thomas Doyle, an inactive priest from Virginia, who has testified before a Philadelphia grand jury and in other probes across the country and world.

"It goes beyond priests abusing kids," Doyle said. "It's the cover-ups by the Catholic bishops."

In light of the Pittsburgh grand jury, the Pennsylvania Catholic League, the leading Harrisburg lobbying group for dioceses and Catholic religious orders, urged survivors of clergy sex abuse to contact law enforcement and their local diocese for help.

"The Pennsylvania Catholic Conference encourages survivors of child sexual abuse — no matter when or where it occurred — to contact authorities and report it," association spokeswoman Amy Hill said. "We want to be sure everyone who wants help has access to support resources."

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