Politics Foreign Affairs Culture Fellows Program

The PA Catholic Sex Abuse Horror

AG: 'They protected their institution at all costs'
Screen Shot 2018-08-14 at 1.28.27 PM

The Pennsylvania grand jury report is out: read it here. It examines 70 years of child sex abuse by Catholic priests in six of the state’s eight dioceses, and 70 years of cover-up. Josh Shapiro, the state Attorney General, said in his press conference this afternoon that “over one thousand child victims” were identified in the investigation, but grand jury estimates there were thousands more. From the report:

Most of the victims were boys; but there were girls too. Some were teens; many were prepubescent. Some were manipulated with alcohol or pornography. Some were made to masturbate their assailants, or were groped by them. Some were raped orally, some vaginally, some anally. But all of them were brushed aside, in every part of the state, by church leaders who preferred to protect the abusers and their institution above all.

It’s a very long report — 900 pages. I’m going to be posting on it throughout the afternoon, as I read it. Please keep checking back for updates. We’ll start with this, from the introduction, in which the grand jury identified the strategy the Catholic Church used to, in the AG’s words “protect their institution at all costs.”

The strategies were so common that they were susceptible to behavioral analysis by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. For our benefit, the FBI agreed to assign members of its National
Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime to review a significant portion of the evidence received by the grand jury. Special agents testified before us that they had identified a series of practices that regularly appeared, in various configurations, in the diocesan files they had analyzed. It’s like a playbook for concealing the truth:

First, make sure to use euphemisms rather than real words to describe the sexual assaults in diocese documents. Never say “rape”; say “inappropriate contact” or “boundary issues.”

Second, don’t conduct genuine investigations with properly trained personnel. Instead, assign fellow clergy members to ask inadequate questions and then make credibility
determinations about the colleagues with whom they live and work.

Third, for an appearance of integrity, send priests for “evaluation” at church -run psychiatric treatment centers. Allow these experts to “diagnose” whether the priest was a pedophile, based largely on the priest’s “self -reports,” and regardless of whether the priest had actually engaged in sexual contact with a child.

Fourth, when a priest does have to be removed, don’t say why. Tell his parishioners that he is on “sick leave,” or suffering from “nervous exhaustion.” Or say nothing at all.

Fifth, even if a priest is raping children, keep providing him housing and living expenses, although he may be using these resources to facilitate more sexual assaults.

Sixth, if a predator’s conduct becomes known to the community, don’t remove him from the priesthood to ensure that no more children will be victimized. Instead, transfer him to a new
location where no one will know he is a child abuser.

Finally and above all, don’t tell the police. Child sexual abuse, even short of actual penetration, is and has for all relevant times been a crime. But don’t treat it that way; handle it like a personnel matter, “in house.”

More to come. I’ll update this post throughout the afternoon.




I’m at this moment going through the section on the Diocese of Erie. It’s previous Bishop, Donald Trautman, demonstrates what to me indicates depraved indifference to the harm his pederast priests did. Trautman did not hesitate to lie to the public to protect his priests. It beggars belief that such a man as Bishop Trautman truly believed in God. The kind of numbing one has to do to one’s conscience to justify behaving like this is breathtaking. It’s like children and families weren’t real; only priests were.

Alan Jacobs notes:

Even when the priests knew they were doing terrible things, even when they wanted to be held accountable, even when they desperately desired for children to be protected from them, the bishops refused. Faced not only with horrifically abused children, but also with abusers who cried out to be restrained, they did nothing. They all but forced the abuse to continue — they could not have done more if they had themselves desired above all things the destruction of lives.

The Lord, who sees in private, will reward.

I don’t know how many of these bishops are still alive, but they should be afraid to show their faces in public for the rest of their lives, and spend every waking moment weeping for their sins. In a just world, they would all be in jail.

More to come. I haven’t yet reached the Pittsburgh section, to see what the Silver Fox, Washington’s Cardinal Wuerl, did when he was Bishop of Pittsburgh.



UPDATE.5: The Pittsburgh section begins on page 207.

Check this out. Next time a Catholic integralist tells you that entwining Church with State is something devoutly to be wished, remember this:

On page 222, the grand jury notes that in 1989, then-Bishop Donald Wuerl wrote to the Vatican to warn about pedophile priests and the dangers they pose, and to say that parishioners deserved to know about such priests in their midst. And yet, in 1991, Bishop Wuerl approved pedophile Pittsburgh priest Father Paone’s assignment in the Diocese of Reno-Las Vegas. That priest continued to work there — without Pittsburgh telling them that they knew he was a pedophile — until the Boston scandal broke in 2002. Only then did Wuerl withdraw his faculties. According to the report, “The Grand Jury noted that only this external force generated the action which should have occurred decades earlier.” More:

And my God, look at this from Pittsburgh:

Here’s the story of what this ring did with a middle schooler named “George”:

Zirwas started introducing George to his “friends” who were priests who seemed to share similar interests. On one occasion, Zirwas took George to a parish rectory in Munhall where the
following priests were present: Father Francis L. Pucci, Father Richard Zula, and Father Francis Luddy of the Diocese of Altoona -Johnstown. The priests began a conversation about religious statues and asked George to get up on a bed. As the priests watched, they asked George to remove his shirt. They then drew an analogy to the image of Christ on the cross, and told George to remove his pants so that his pose would be more consistent with the image of Christ in a loincloth. At that point, the priests began taking Polaroid pictures of George. As the picture taking continued, the priests directed George to take off his underwear. George was nervous and complied.

George recalled that either Zula or Pucci operated the camera. He stated that all of the men giggled and stated that the pictures would be used as a reference for new religious statues for the parishes. George testified that this occurred before he turned 18 -years -old and that his genitals were exposed in the photographs. George stated that his photographs were added to a collection of similar photographs depicting other teenage boys.

George recalled that each of these priests had a group of favored boys who they would take on trips. The boys received gifts; specifically, gold cross necklaces. George stated, “He [Zirwas]
had told me that they, the priests, would give their boys, their altar boys or their favorite boys these crosses. So he gave me a big gold cross to wear.” The Grand Jury observed that these crosses served another purpose beyond the grooming of the victims: They were a visible designation that these children were victims of sexual abuse. They were a signal to other predators that the children had been desensitized to sexual abuse and were optimal targets for further victimization.

The report goes on to talk about a Father Rich Zula, who was part of that ring. Zula eventually was sentenced to prison, but the grand jury notes correspondence between him and the diocese in which he threatens to reveal to the police more names of priests involved in pedophilia. Upon his release, Zula eventually received a generous level of support from the diocese — strange, considering his crimes.

Cardinal Donald Wuerl should resign today, as should Pittsburgh Bishop David Zubik, who served Wuerl when Wuerl was the ordinary there. After this, they do not have the moral authority to lead.



Let’s consider the Diocese of Scranton now. This passage jumped out at me about its onetime bishop, James Timlin:

Bishop Timlin — now there’s a name I haven’t thought about in a while. I interviewed him for a 2002 National Review Online article I was doing about the Society of St. John, a new conservative priestly order he had welcomed into the diocese, but which stood accused of being more or less a homoerotic cult preying on schoolboys from St. Gregory’s Academy. I interviewed Timlin about it, and he told me that there were no problems with the Society. I published the story anyway, with Timlin’s denial, but also quoting accusers. That set Father Richard John Neuhaus off. I recalled what happened next on my Beliefnet blog back in 2009, after Neuhaus died:

I was writing fiercely about them at National Review, and was getting angry calls from Fr. Neuhaus telling me to knock it off. In truth, I don’t remember the rationales he offered, but I will never forget his telling me I had no business writing for NRO this story and this follow-up about the Society of St. John, a weird Catholic men’s order in the Diocese of Scranton that had been credibly accused of sexual misconduct with minor males. Fr.Neuhaus was quite put out with me for having published it. I asked him why I ought not to report these things. He said that then-Bishop Timlin had told me that there was nothing to the story, and that was that.

“Father Neuhaus,” I said. “Why should I believe Bishop Timlin?” Mind you, this was well after all the episcopal lies in Boston had been revealed, and not only in Boston.

Neuhaus literally yelled at me: “Because he’s a bishop of the Roman Catholic Church!”

Several years later, the sex abuse lawsuit against the Society and the Diocese of Scranton was settled and the new bishop suppressed the Society. Timlin was shown to have been not credible, to put it with undue charity.

I tell you this story not to speak ill of Father Neuhaus, certainly, but to shed light on his complex character. He was not, as readers of his column know, a patsy for the bishops. But I do think he was an example of the extreme difficulty many Catholics, even good ones — even sophisticated ones (perhaps especially sophisticated ones) — had in seeing what was right in front of their nose in those days. Neuhaus had so much invested in the authority of the Church that he really did believe that the word of a bishop should be enough to settle matters.

The grand jury report produces a letter Timlin wrote to Rome asking for leniency for one of his priest who had impregnated a minor, then helped her procure an abortion. That automatically suspends a priest under canon law. Timlin wrote to the proper figure in the Vatican asking him to waive the penalty so the priest could return to ministry.

A priest who impregnated a minor then helped her get an abortion.

Most of the report involves detailed individual cases. I gave up trying to read them all. It’s like walking through raw sewage. The entire grand jury report is here. 

In their summary, grand jurors wrote:

The press, and Judge Constance Sweeney, who refused the Archdiocese of Boston’s request to keep the records under seal.

Though the grand jury notes that significant improvements have been made since 2002, I don’t understand how anybody can trust the institutional Church to police itself. In the Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska, Bishop James Conley took Father Charles Townsend out of St. Peter’s parish last year, telling people Townsend left for “health reasons” — sound familiar? — and then returned him without telling people the real reason for his forced departure. The only reason it came to light at all, and Townsend was removed, was because of readers of this blog. 

So when can the bishops really be trusted?

The rot goes so deep, and goes back so long. If there were similar investigative grand juries empaneled in every state, what would they find? Do we really believe that Pennsylvania is an island of corruption unto itself?


UPDATE.7: A reader points out the identity of a featured speaker at the World Meeting Of Families later this month in Dublin:

Not sure how much that unctuous fraud Donald Wuerl has to contribute to the discussion of family welfare.

UPDATE.8: There was a rumor that Wuerl would resign in Washington by week’s end. If that’s true, there’s no sign of it. He’s come out swinging. This was sent to priests of the Archdiocese of Washington today:


UPDATE.8: This from Rocco Palmo, in Philly:


UPDATE.9: This woman is a member of the Pittsburgh diocese:




Want to join the conversation?

Subscribe for as little as $5/mo to start commenting on Rod’s blog.

Join Now