By The Texas Catholic
Following the Aug. 14 release of a grand jury report on sexual abuse allegations in six Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania, Dallas Bishop Edward J. Burns said at a press conference later that evening that he was “disheartened” in learning the details of the report.
“What I have read is heart-wrenching and I cringe at the thought that these criminal acts were conducted by men who were to be trusted,” said Bishop Burns, adding that he understood the anger, betrayal and pain he felt was being felt “much more intensely” by the victims and their loved ones. “I know all of us who love our faith can’t believe that we must once again ask the question, ‘How could this happen in our Church?’ ”
The grand jury report paints a picture of how the six Pennsylvania dioceses for decades handled claims of sex abuse of minors by hiding allegations and brushing aside victims.
More than 300 priests were linked to abuse claims and over 1,000 victims were identified, said Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro in a news conference following the report’s release.
“The main thing was not to help children but to avoid ‘scandal,’” read one line of the report, which went on to detail a months-long investigation of clergy sex abuse claims in the dioceses of Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, Allentown, Scranton, Greensburg and Erie.
The report of almost 1,400 pages covers a period of 70 years.
During the Pennsylvania press conference, Shapiro spoke of a “systematic cover-up” by church officials who took information to the Vatican, who also did nothing to help victims. He also spoke of priests who “weaponized faith” and had the victims go to confession for the sins that had just been committed against them.
The grand jury said it found in its investigation that those who claimed sexual abuse of their own or of their children by Catholic clergy or other church workers were “brushed aside,” and officials became more concerned with protecting the abusers because they wanted to protect the image of the church, the report says.
Some of those named in the report had their names redacted, or blacked out, after challenging the inclusion of their identities in it without having the legal opportunity to defend themselves. They are scheduled to have a hearing with the court in September. Some of the dioceses involved said they would release the names of those facing “credible allegations” in the report when the document was made public.
Not all who are accused of sexual abuse or of covering it up in the report are priests. Some on the lists released by dioceses are deacons, some are seminarians, teachers or other church workers, and some are no longer alive. Some are accused of being in possession of child pornography, others of inappropriate touching, kissing, soliciting a child for sex, but most are listed as “sexually abusing a child.”
A native of Pittsburgh who was ordained in that diocese, Bishop Burns said he was “embarrassed and sorrowful” to read the report, which he called nauseating. He also said the Catholic Church must find a way to do a better job protecting the people it serves, especially the most vulnerable.
“We cannot grow complacent. We cannot be lukewarm. We cannot simply coast when it comes to addressing this most critical issue,” he said. “I recognize that my brother bishops and priests will only be able to restore the trust and credibility of our Church by truly being the men we say are.”
The bishop noted that the Dallas diocese has taken “tremendous measures” to screen candidates to the priesthood and to train all who work in the Catholic Church in order to maintain a safe environment, including the more than 125,000 individuals who have completed required training since 2008.
“Overall, as a Church, we need to do a better job. We can do better,” Bishop Burns said.
Bishop Burns said he supports Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and his call to begin addressing abuse of power by bishops and major superiors.
“At the same time, I know that words alone will not address this issue and I am in the planning stages of taking some steps here in the Diocese of Dallas,” he said. “These actions will be detailed in the near future after consultation with our Diocesan Review Board.”
The bishop also called for prayers for the victims of sexual abuse and their loved ones that God will bring them comfort and healing.
“Let us also fervently pray that the Holy Spirit will help us purge from the present and the future all the sins of the past,” he said.
Bishop Burns also had a message for the members of the Catholic community as their shepherd, urging them to “stay strong in the faith”
“Let no sinful man separate you from Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh and the great love he has shown you in the Eucharist and the other sacraments,” he said. “To everyone, I say we here in the Diocese of Dallas will do our upmost in creating a safe environment.”
The bishop said it is important the Diocese of Dallas act with an element of transparency and be a diocese of integrity that assures the faithful that the good men who are serving them are indeed the men they say they are.
The report is released as the Catholic Church in the United States finds itself grappling with the late July resignation of retired Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick, 88, of Washington, from the College of Cardinals, following decades-old allegations that he sexually abused seminarians and at least two minors.
“One of the roles and responsibilities of the shepherd is to protect the flock – a shepherd does that. A wolf in sheep’s clothing is startling enough, but when there is a wolf in shepherd’s clothing that is horrendous,” Bishop Burns said. “Therein lies the concern that I have as the true shepherd of this diocese, recognizing that if I am ever going to be a good shepherd, I have to reflect Christ who is the Good Shepherd and truly take care of the flock.”
Rhina Guidos of Catholic News Service contributed to this story.