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State attorney general: Pittsburgh Bishop Zubik 'not telling the truth'

| Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2018, 12:09 p.m.
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro had sharp words for the Greensburg, Pittsburgh and Harrisburg dioceses of the Catholic Church in interviews with national media outlets this week. (Matt Rourke/AP)
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro had sharp words for the Greensburg, Pittsburgh and Harrisburg dioceses of the Catholic Church in interviews with national media outlets this week. (Matt Rourke/AP)

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro accused Pittsburgh Bishop David Zubik of lying about an alleged cover-up of child sex abuse in his diocese and said bishops in Greensburg and Harrisburg fought to block the release of a grand jury report detailing abuses.

“Those insinuations are false,” Matt Haverstick, legal counsel for the Greensburg and Harrisburg dioceses, told the Tribune-Review late Tuesday. “The dioceses of Greensburg and Harrisburg have always supported the release of an accurate grand jury report. I’m not sure I can say the same thing about the Attorney General’s office.”

Shapiro fought to get the grand jury report released publicly two weeks ago. It contained allegations against 301 priests in six of Pennsylvania’s dioceses and efforts by church leaders to cover up the abuse.

He told the New York Times in a story published Monday that bishops of the Greensburg and Harrisburg dioceses worked “behind the scenes to shut the report down” while saying publicly that they supported the release.

Shapiro didn’t identify the bishops.

“I’m not aware of anyone associated with the dioceses of Greensburg or Harrisburg who ever sought to block the release of a report, so long as it was accurate,” Haverstick said.

The edited grand jury report included the names of 288 priests and redacted those of 13 others.

Former Greensburg Bishop Lawrence Brandt, who served the diocese from 2004 to 2015, is among the 13 clergy and former clergy who filed legal objections challenging their inclusion in the report. Their names were blacked out pending a decision by the state Supreme Court.

Though neither the Greensburg nor Harrisburg dioceses are parties to any such litigation, “we support anyone who’s trying to vindicate their constitutional rights,” Haverstick said.

Current Greensburg Bishop Edward C. Malesic has said he has worked aggressively to address allegations of abuse and protect children. In a homily delivered after the grand jury report’s release, Malesic said he was ashamed of the “horrific misconduct” that occurred in the past and church leaders’ handling of it but said the diocese has implemented a series of changes to keep children safe from sexual predators.

Shapiro slams Zubik, bishop responds

In an interview Tuesday with “CBS This Morning,” Shapiro reacted to Pittsburgh Bishop David Zubik’s claim that “there was no cover-up going on.”

“He’s not telling the truth and the church’s own documents prove that,” Shapiro said on the show .

Pittsburgh diocese spokesman the Rev. Nick Vaskov responded late Tuesday in a statement emailed to the Trib that he attributed to Zubik. It reiterates points that the bishop made previously.

The statement:

“The Diocese of Pittsburgh is not the church described in the report. That means that the report ignores 30 years of reforms and actions to protect children and identify and remove abusing priests from ministry.

“My heart breaks for every child who has been affected by abuse at the hands of the Catholic Church in Pittsburgh, regardless of when it occurred.

“The truth is that 90 percent of the incidents of abuse occurred before 1990, and the efforts we have made to protect children — such as turning over allegations to law enforcement, creating the first Independent Review Board and training more than 70,000 people on how to look for and report abuse — have significantly reduced the incidents of abuse.

“The Diocese of Pittsburgh’s website contains the dates on which we have reported allegations of clergy sexual abuse to law enforcement.

“Furthermore, we are constantly looking for new ways to improve our efforts and have recently engaged Shay Bilchick, a national expert on issues related to child sexual abuse, to review our practices and recommend ways to strengthen them.”

Shapiro responded to Zubik’s remark regarding the Catholic Church in Pittsburgh not being the church described in the grand jury report, which he has stated before.

“Child rape in 1970 is the same as child rape in 2018,” Shapiro said on the show. “It is unacceptable. And the idea that the bishop would just say, ‘Oh, this was a long time ago,’ is demonstrably false and it is absolutely the wrong response to this.”

Shapiro said that evidence uncovered in the grand jury investigation revealed a Vatican connection.

“There are specific examples where the Vatican knew of this abuse and they were involved in the cover-up,” he said.

Shapiro said 733 people had called an abuse hotline his office set up. He has said the investigation is active and ongoing.

Wes Venteicher is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Wes at 412-380-5676, or via Twitter @wesventeicher. Natasha Lindstrom is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Natasha at 412-380-8514, or via Twitter @NewsNatasha.

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