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Group calls on Bishop Malesic to acknowledge link between clergy sexual abuse and opioid epidemic

Stephen Huba
| Wednesday, Aug. 16, 2017, 10:12 p.m.
The Rev. Paul Price (with bullhorn), pastor of Cornerstone Worship Center in Indiana Borough, says a prayer at a news conference held by Faithful Catholics Against Pedophilia on Wednesday, Aug. 16, 2017, outside St. Thomas More University Parish. With him are (from left) FACP founder Tom Venditti and Deaconess Anne Armstrong and Alan Gordon, both of the Healing Church in Rhode Island.
Stephen Huba | Tribune-Review
The Rev. Paul Price (with bullhorn), pastor of Cornerstone Worship Center in Indiana Borough, says a prayer at a news conference held by Faithful Catholics Against Pedophilia on Wednesday, Aug. 16, 2017, outside St. Thomas More University Parish. With him are (from left) FACP founder Tom Venditti and Deaconess Anne Armstrong and Alan Gordon, both of the Healing Church in Rhode Island.

A group of Catholic lay people and clergy is calling on Greensburg Bishop Edward C. Malesic and other church hierarchs to acknowledge that the clergy sexual abuse scandal is feeding the opioid epidemic.

“He's got to take some responsibility,” said Tom Venditti, founder of Faithful Catholics Against Pedophilia.

Venditti of Bolivar said he founded FCAP earlier this year to help victims of clergy sexual abuse and encourage them to stay in the Catholic Church.

The group held a news conference Wednesday prior to the last of seven Summer Diocesan Drug Education and Prayer Service Evenings led by Malesic. The final event was held at St. Thomas More University Parish in Indiana Borough.

Venditti said he wanted to address “Malesic's failure to acknowledge clerical sexual abuse as a doorway to heroin abuse and death.”

“We're here specifically because one of the things you're not going to hear tonight … is that the majority of victims of clergy sexual abuse become addicts, whether it's to alcohol or heroin or other hard drugs,” he said.

Venditti said he supports Malesic's push to involve the Catholic Church in solutions to the opioid epidemic but that more is needed. He said bishops should call on priests accused of sexual abuse to repent and resign.

“These men are not going to get to heaven if they don't repent,” he said.

Malesic did not respond to Venditti's claims, but diocesan spokesman Jerry Zufelt said, “The diocese is doing everything it can to protect its children, young adults and vulnerable adults from the evils of abuse.”

About FCAP, Zufelt said, “We support anybody who is working to help abuse survivors.”

Venditti cited two recent cases — one involving a retired priest in the Diocese of Greensburg and one involving a priest in the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown — as proof that the problem of clergy sexual abuse is still not being handled effectively.

He alleged that a recent overdose victim in Johnstown had been sexually abused by Brother Stephen Baker, a Franciscan friar accused of abusing students at Bishop McCort Catholic High School in Johnstown from 1992 to 2001. Three Franciscan superiors were indicted in 2016 in connection with the case.

Baker was found dead of apparent suicide at the St. Bernardine Monastery in Hollidaysburg on Jan. 26, 2013, days after the announcement of a multimillion-dollar settlement with his accusers. He was first accused of sexual abuse in 1988, but his superiors never reported allegations to police.

“All of the victims of clergy sexual abuse that I've dealt with are either suicidal or addicted to drugs or alcohol — every single one of them,” Venditti said.

A former religious education teacher at Bishop McCort and Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic High School in Altoona, Venditti said he left those positions feeling disillusioned about the church's commitment to addressing clergy sexual abuse.

With him Wednesday were two leaders of the Rhode Island-based Healing Church, which advocates for the use of medical marijuana for opioid addicts and abuse victims.

Deaconess Anne Armstrong and Alan Gordon said the group is seeking to develop partnerships with faith-based and government agencies to promote greater acceptance of medical marijuana.

“Cannabis helps you deal with the pain and work through it,” Armstrong said.

Stephen Huba is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-850-1280, shuba@tribweb.com or via Twitter @shuba_trib.

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