'We've become the safest place for children,' Greensburg bishop says
Catholic officials in Greensburg are scrambling to prove the church that is detailed in an upcoming grand jury report documenting decades of alleged child sexual abuse and cover-ups is not the one of today.
“We read so much about what the church did in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. That is the church of the past,” Greensburg Bishop Edward C. Malesic said Thursday.
A new 17-page diocesan statement, titled “Progress Update on the Protection of Children: Higher Standards of Today’s Catholic Church,” paints a far more accurate portrait of the church today, Malesic said.
The statement published on the diocesan website Thursday and in Friday’s Catholic Accent warns parishioners that they will see both familiar and unfamiliar priests’ names in an edited version of the grand jury report to be released by Tuesday. It also details how the Catholic church has adopted more-stringent standards for the protection of children, dating to 1985 when widespread reports of clergy sexual abuse began surfacing in the United States.
Flanked by Philadelphia-based attorney Mark E. Seiberling and Jennifer Miele, the diocese’s chief communications officer, Malesic on Thursday reiterated that the diocese will publish the names of all credibly accused priests from the diocese — which represents 137,000 Catholics in Armstrong, Fayette, Indiana and Westmoreland counties — when the grand jury report is published.
Malesic, who became bishop of the Greensburg Diocese in 2015, said he has recorded a special homily to be played in every parish the weekend after the report is released.
He declined to discuss specifics of the grand jury report — of which the diocese received a copy in May — but said he is unaware of any abuse allegations involving his diocese that occurred after 2000.
Published portions of the report that remains under seal said the grand jury named more than 300 “predator priests” in the Greensburg, Pittsburgh, Erie, Harrisburg, Scranton and Allentown dioceses.
Bishops in Erie and Harrisburg have published names of all credibly accused clergy and employees in their diocese. Malesic said he held back out of respect for the grand jury. With the pending publication of the report, he said he made up his mind to act.
“I think that I want to be as absolutely transparent as possible. I know the grand jury report is going to list names. We are going to make that as public as possible on our own website to first make victims know that we believe them and to help other victims come forward … to let them know that we recognize their pain,” Malesic said.
The diocese’s Progress Update details efforts the church has made over the past 30 years to combat sexual abuse in its ranks. Malesic said the diocese has trained 15,000 priests, deacons, seminarians, lay staff and volunteers to recognize the signs of child physical and sexual abuse and to report it.
“That is so critical to me because I think of this as an army of 15,000 people who are present in our church, making pierogies in our kitchens … and who can go out to the community and help the community be safe places,” he said. “In our tragedy, we’ve gained a lot of strength. We’ve become the safest place for children that I know of.”
The bishop said he counseled victims of sexual abuse in his prior posts as a college chaplain and later as a priest in the Harrisburg diocese.
“That’s where I learned to have a heart for victims. I’ve met with victims of priest abuse. I’ve heard their anguish, and so I offer my personal apologies,” he said. “A man who wears the same clothing I wear now, a priest, abused them. I am sorry that happened. Something happened to them that should have never happened.”
He said the church continues to provide counseling and support for abuse victims, and he urged anyone who has suffered abuse at the hands of a priest to come forward.
“Even if he’s dead, report it. Even if you suspect someone is being abused, report it,” Malesic said.
Deb Erdley is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Deb at 412-320-7996, email@example.com or via Twitter @deberdley_trib.