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Bishop Zubik to lead repentance service Sunday expressing 'sorrow' for child sex abuse victims

Natasha Lindstrom
| Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018, 12:51 p.m.
Bishop David Zubik answer questions from a Tribune-Review reporter during an interview at the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh’s Downtown offices, on Aug. 21, 2018.
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Bishop David Zubik answer questions from a Tribune-Review reporter during an interview at the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh’s Downtown offices, on Aug. 21, 2018.

Bishop David Zubik will lead a prayer service Sunday afternoon intended “to express sorrow for the harm that child sexual abuse by priests has done to victims and to the faithful of the Diocese of Pittsburgh.”

The “Holy Hour for Repentance” service — which is not a Mass — is scheduled to begin 3 p.m. Sunday at St. Paul Cathedral in Pittsburgh’s Oakland neighborhood.

The event marks the beginning of the diocese’s “Year of Repentance” as Pittsburgh and five other Pennsylvania dioceses respond to a scathing grand jury report into the Catholic Church’s child sex abuse scandal and alleged cover-ups by high-ranking leaders — including Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Washington’s archbishop and former Pittsburgh bishop.

The grand jury investigation into the Pittsburgh, Greensburg, Johnstown-Altoona, Erie, Philadelphia, Allentown and Scranton dioceses alleges that more than 300 priests sexually abused at least 1,000 children over the past 70 years.

The report — made public last month — named 20 “predator” priests who worked in the Greensburg diocese and 99 in the Pittsburgh diocese who stand accused of sexual abuse.

Zubik has said the church didn’t cover up the abuse and that the church has instituted internal reforms to address abuse by clergy.

On Friday, Zubik and eight Catholic bishops and archbishops issued a joint statement saying that they will support an independent and voluntary sex abuse survivors “compensation program” — but they oppose setting aside the statute of limitations to give victims of clergy sex abuse the opportunity to sue the church on old claims of abuse.

Allowing for that could bankrupt the state’s dioceses, the bishops said.

Pennsylvania’s statute of limitations prohibits childhood civil abuse claims after the victim becomes 30 years old and criminal claims after they reach 50 years old.

Zubik did call for eliminating criminal statutes of limitation for child sexual abuse, clarifying the rules for mandatory reporting and providing stronger penalties for those who fail to protect children.

He said the Catholic Church since 2002 has forbidden non-disclosure agreements for child victims of clergy sex abuse and called for the state to create a similar ban.

Zubik had announced earlier this month that the Pittsburgh diocese would be inviting all Catholics participating in fasting and prayer during a “Year of Repentance.”

“Faced with the sinful actions of the members of our own ranks of the clergy, who are called to manifest the example of Christ, we feel both shame and sorrow, and are reminded of our own sinfulness and the need for mercy,” Zubik wrote in a letter to clergy.

Throughout the year, clergy will abstain from meat for three-day periods and dedicate a special hour of prayer each day.

Tim Lennon, president of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests — which has called for Zubik to resign — has dismissed such efforts as “merely words and gestures,” arguing that “apologies, condemnations (and) penance fail to protect or support victims.”

Natasha Lindstrom is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Natasha at 412-380-8514, nlindstrom@tribweb.com or via Twitter @NewsNatasha.

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