My dear friends in Christ,
Peace be with you!
I wanted to speak at all of the Masses this weekend in the Diocese of Greensburg. Recently, the Pennsylvania Attorney General produced a Grand Jury report that described the horrific misconduct of those clerics who abused children as far back as seventy years ago in six Pennsylvania dioceses, including the Diocese of Greensburg. The report gave a mostly critical overview of how past leadership sometimes misjudged the gravity of child sexual abuse. Looking back, we should have known better and done better, but we didn’t. Long ago, in the Diocese of Greensburg, priests were sometimes moved by bishops even when it was clear that these priests had abused children. This cannot be accepted: it is a cause of shame for us. As ashamed as I am of the disgusting misconduct revealed in the Grand Jury Report, I am truly proud of the victims who came forward to tell their story. They have shown great courage. I encourage others to do the same. If you have been abused, report it. If you suspect abuse, report it.
To the survivors of sexual abuse in the Church, whether it was at the hands of a priest, a teacher, volunteer, or even a family member: I grieve for you and I grieve with you. In the Diocese of Greensburg, we stand ready to listen to you and, if you want it, we stand ready to help you heal as much as possible. It does not matter when it occurred, by whom it occurred, where it occurred, or how it occurred. We want to help. Jesus expects nothing less from us. Let me tell you this, just in case you have some misgivings because of your past experience with the Church: We love you. And I ask all of the Catholic faithful to support you with the care and concern that you deserve.
Specifically, to those of you who were abused by one of our priests. In the name of the entire Catholic Church, I apologize to you for those men who stole your childhood innocence, and in some cases, robbed you of your faith. Those priests acted as wolves among us, even if they were dressed in sheep’s clothing. I am sorry for that. In fact, honestly, I am extremely angry at them for what they did to you. I am outraged along with everyone else. I can understand your anger with bishops as well – perhaps even with me. You deserved much better from us. I promise to do my best to continue to ensure that it will never happen again.
Let me say this as clearly as possible. Priests who have abused our children have no place at our Parish altars wearing the vestments of our sacred mysteries. They have forfeited the right to be called “Father” by our people. Priests who have abused our children have no place in ministry.
Still, I know that some of the priests named in the Grand Jury Report may have shocked those of you who knew them, worked with them, even loved them. Many of these priests are now dead. None of them are in active ministry. Their gravely sinful behavior has caused unspeakable harm to the survivors of their abuse and to the survivors’ families. The pain which they caused affects all of us. We pray for the Lord’s justice, compassion and strength in the face of this tragedy.
Each diocese must answer for itself. But I answer for Greensburg. Personally, I am ashamed by what some of our priests did in the past. At the same time, I am proud of those priests who are faithful and remain true to their calling. I am proud of those priests who here and now, work tirelessly for the protection of all children and vulnerable adults. I ask you to support our good priests who serve us faithfully every day in ministry. This is a difficult time for them too.
The people of the Diocese of Greensburg should know that we have learned from the mistakes that we made in the past. In the last 30 years, we have been served well by our greater understanding of the psychology and the signs of child sexual abuse. New laws have also helped to guide us in protecting our children. The State now has a Childline number that we call to report every case of suspected child abuse. And more stringent regulations guide our Church, and other similar organizations, to help keep our children safe from predators. We are ready to help others because the abuse of children is not just our problem; it is not an exclusively Catholic problem.
Let me give you an example of how we are working today. When the Diocese of Greensburg was informed for the first time of a decades-old allegation against one of our active priests, I removed him from ministry within 24 hours. We fully cooperated with our law enforcement officials in that situation. This cooperation is nothing new for us and it will continue in the future because we are committed to keeping our parishes as safe as possible for everyone.
I also want to assure you that each of our seminarians and candidates for the Permanent Diaconate and Lay Ecclesial Ministry Program go through extensive background checks and psychological testing before being accepted into our formation programs. All of our priests are mandated to undergo background checks and they have been trained to know the signs of child sexual abuse and how to report it. The same requirements are in place for every one of our volunteers and lay employees. More than 15,000 of them! I sometimes get letters from elderly volunteers who ask why they must pass a background check before they can volunteer at the parish festival or make pierogis in the kitchen. The answer is clear. Every person who works for or volunteers on behalf of the Catholic Church in our diocese should be cleared to work with children and become aware of the signs of child abuse. We must all strive to be the best that we can be.
I can assure you that the Church in the Diocese of Greensburg today has evolved far beyond the Church described in the Grand Jury report. One of the safest places to be as a young person today is the Catholic Church. This is not just a convenient saying; current statistics bear this out as a fact. The Grand Jury report describes the Church of thirty, fifty, even more than seventy years ago. It falls far short of describing the Church we love and support. It does not paint an accurate picture of the Church in which we pray and find comfort today.
Let me tell you who we are today.
Today’s Catholic Church encourages our young people to be Disciples of Christ and servants in the community. Our Catholic Schools educate more than 2,300 young people each year in a faith-based environment. Our religious education programs and parish youth groups are places where our children and young people learn how to pray and speak about God.
Today’s Catholic Church accompanies the poor, responding to the material and spiritual need of thousands and those who suffer from the ravages addiction. We are vibrant and supported by many service organizations who represent the presence of Jesus Christ by visiting the homebound, sick and imprisoned, and conduct food and gift collections during the holidays and throughout the year.
Today’s Catholic Church supports the people of the four counties in our Diocese: Indiana, Armstrong, Westmoreland and Fayette, regardless of their religious affiliation. For example, during the weather disasters of 2016 and 2017, through your generosity, Greensburg Catholic Charities brought over $200,000 in aid to 66 families who lost their furnaces and water heaters.
Today’s Catholic Church is the center of prayer. In it, we celebrate the sacraments, raise our families and grow in holiness. Today’s church provides a place of spiritual comfort for those who are looking for deeper meaning and a personal relationship with God.
Today’s Catholic Church does good work. God’s work.
We can allow this moment to reenergize our commitment to the church that is built on the rock of Peter’s faith. Jesus will constantly breathe new life into us. He always has. He always will. He is our savior. In Him we place all of our trust. May nothing ever distract us from the love that God has poured out on us as we remember the words of St. Paul, “Where sin is present, there grace abounds even more.”
To close, I would like to remind all of us who are Christ’s faithful in the Diocese of Greensburg that August 15 is the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Mary, under this title, is our patroness. Please join me in imploring Mary for help. In fact, I want to encourage you to pray a rosary sometime today or when you are able to ask for the vibrancy of today’s Catholic Church.
May God bless all of you and those you love.