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Bishop Zubik hopes Pope Francis allows him to continue leading diocese, help with healing

Deb Erdley
| Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2018, 4:39 p.m.

Pittsburgh Bishop David Zubik was stunned when a group of abuse survivors demanded he resign over his handling of child sexual abuse complaints as detailed in a recent grand jury report.

“I was surprised that people would ask me to resign. First of all, resignations are something that are decided by the pope,” Zubik said. “But since becoming bishop of Pittsburgh since 2007, I’ve been very responsive. … And I want to still continue to lead the people to help with their healing.”

A recent flurry of complaints to diocesan officials in Greensburg and Pittsburgh as well 544 calls to a sexual abuse hotline run by the state Attorney General’s office in the week since the public release of a stunning grand jury report on clergy abusing minors across Pennsylvania suggests that it could take some time as the Catholic church attempts to deal with an international plague of complaints and allegations of cover-ups that triggered recent high-profile resignations.

Among those to resign as Pope Francis bemoaned the scandal that has ripped the church across several continents are

Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington, D.C., an archbishop in Australia, and five bishops in Chile.

Judy Jones, the Midwestern director of SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests) last week called on Zubik and his predecessor Cardinal Donald Wuerl, archbishop of Washington, D.C., to resign, saying the report suggested they were more interested in protecting priests than children.

Both men have denied they were part of any cover-up and insist their work helped change the church and expose decades of abuse.

On Wednesday, however, Zubik announced that he granted a request from Wuerl to remove his name from North Catholic High School in Cranberry. The announcement came after vandals covered Wuerl’s name on the school sign over with red paint and an petition alumni launched online to remove his name snared 7,500 signatures.

“This is happening because victims are finally starting to speak up,” Jones said.

Jones, 70, grew up in the Steubenville Diocese in Eastern Ohio and now lives in St. Louis. This week, she visited diocesan headquarters across Pennsylvania.

“In the dioceses, you can tell the bishops are concerned. As far as Catholics, many are very angry and the victims are finally starting to be believed,” Jones said.

She said that probably would not have been possible but for communication networks that have helped victims find a community of support.

“I’m one of 11 children—that’s how Catholic we were. My brother was abused by a longtime priest in Steubenville. And even my mother refused to believe him. He died last year,” she said. “You don’t know how powerful those priests were. In these smaller towns, there are still victims who are silent. This grand jury is going to make people come forward.”

In Greensburg, 16 new allegations of abuse have been reported to the diocese since the grand jury report was released on Aug. 14. Church officials placed a priest not previously accused of sexual abuse on leave this week pending the investigation of a new complaint dating back to the 1990s. Westmoreland County District Attorney John Peck said his office is investigating that charge as well as another allegation against a priest named in the grand jury report and multiple allegations against dead priests.

A spokesman for Greensburg Bishop Edward Malesic said the diocese will inform parishioners at the Uniontown churches where Monsignor Michael Matusak served that he has been placed on leave, pending the outcome of the district attorney’s investigation. He stressed that is not an indication of guilt, but merely the church’s policy regarding any credible allegations.

The Rev. Nick Vaskov, a spokesman for the Pittsburgh diocese, said officials there received “about 50” new complaints, dating from the 1940s. All of the newly reported incidents occurred before 1990, he said.

Referrals to district attorneys are “in process,” Vaskov said.

The number of complaints the Pittsburgh diocese turned over to the grand jury should stand as proof that it takes such complaints very seriously, Zubik said.

The bishop has spent the bulk of his career in Pittsburgh since being ordained there in 1975 and served under both Wuerl and the late Archbishop Anthony Bevilacqua. He said he cannot answer for how complaints were handled in the 1960s, 70s and 80s.

But beginning in 1993, Zubik said the diocese began forwarding all complaints involving minors to law enforcement. Since 2002, the Pittsburgh diocese has referred all complaints to law enforcement, regardless of the age of the victim and whether the priest is alive or dead, he said.

Zubik said he personally has received hundreds of emails since the grand jury report was released.

“I get hate mail, and I get people who say we’re here and we need you to be our leader,” he said. “There are more in terms of people who say, ‘Stay in there.’”

Deb Erdley is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Deb at 412-320-7996, derdley@tribweb.com or via Twitter @deberdley_trib.

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