A look at the handling of Pennsylvania clergy abuse claims

FILE – In this Oct. 5, 2011, file photo, the Most Rev. David Zubik, bishop of Pittsburgh, answers questions during a news conference in Pittsburgh. A grand jury report released Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2018, documenting seven decades of child sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests in Pennsylvania lists instances in which Zubik, both before and after his appointment as bishop in 2007, failed to notify law enforcement of credible claims of abuse. Zubik says that beginning in 2002, all credible allegations were reported to law enforcement. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic, File)

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A grand jury report documenting seven decades of child sexual abuse by hundreds of Roman Catholic priests in Pennsylvania found that most of the bishops who served in the state during that period mishandled at least some of the allegations.

In some cases, they failed to pass accusations on to law enforcement and in others shuffled priests off to different parishes. The report alleged a systematic cover-up and concluded that church leaders “largely escaped public accountability.”

The grand jury was particularly critical of bishops who served after the church adopted sweeping reforms in 2002 to ensure the swift removal of any clerics who molested a child. A look at accusations against four of the more recent bishops cited in the report:


BISHOP DAVID ZUBIK, Pittsburgh, 2007 to present

The report lists several instances in which Zubik, both before and after becoming bishop, failed to notify law enforcement of credible abuse claims.

In one example, a 1994 complaint against a priest was deemed credible in part because the victim had “detailed knowledge” of the priest’s anatomy. The victim met with Zubik when Zubik was still a priest and a handful of others to discuss the allegations, the report said.

Zubik and the others also appeared to have talked to then-Bishop Donald Wuerl, now a cardinal and archbishop of Washington, but they did not report the allegations to police.


Beginning in 2002, Zubik said, all credible allegations were reported to law enforcement. Starting in 2007, he said, all allegations regardless of credibility were reported. The diocese said the grand jury inaccurately attributed statements and drew other conclusions without proof.



Trautman, according to the report, allowed priests to continue regular or restricted duties despite credible allegations of abuse. The report also accused him of being dishonest about the diocese’s knowledge of abuse of victims and reassigning accused priests to keep them in the ministry.

He reassigned one priest several times despite abuse accusations, said the report, which also quoted several instances in which Trautman told reporters and the public that he knew of no priest with a pedophile background in any form of ministry and he would not have transferred a known abuser to another parish.

The report cited a news release from the diocese claiming it had no knowledge of additional victims of another priest. The release “was false and misleading. Trautman had personal knowledge of at least three victims, one as young as 13, who reported their abuse to him in 2002,” the report said.


Trautman and his lawyer denied the bishop ever covered up sexual abuse. He acted swiftly to confront priests when he received allegations and to remove priests from ministry, he and his lawyer said.



Internal documents cited by the grand jury showed Cullen did not take action against a priest who transferred to a different diocese in Texas after abuse allegations surfaced. Following the priest’s arrest in Texas, the diocese issued a statement saying it was surprised and had communicated rumors of abuse but never had contact with victims.

The grand jury said several victims contacted the diocese directly.

Cullen was also cited for having approved pensions or stipends and health insurance for several priests who resigned amid abuse allegations.

The report said he renewed another priest’s faculties, or ability to perform the sacraments, despite knowing of credible abuse claims. When the father of a victim became irate over a celebratory announcement about the renewal, the diocese did not address the renewal, but instead created a list of priests whose positive announcements had to be approved before they were published, the grand jury said.


A diocese spokesman said that Cullen is retired and would not be talking to reporters. He said the diocese stood by its 2002 characterization that the allegations against the priest who transferred to Texas, were surprising at the time the diocese statement was issued.



The report credits a glowing letter from Timlin as the reason at least one priest accused of abusing young boys was allowed to transfer into a diocese in Paraguay. That priest and the bishop he served under in Paraguay were later removed by the Vatican.

The background, according to the grand jury, is unusual. A group of young priests split from the church and formed an unauthorized religious order. When several of the priests wanted to come back to the church, Timlin allowed them into the Scranton diocese without doing background checks and gave them permission to buy property to start a college.

Allegations surfaced that the priests were sleeping in the same beds as young males at the property, and a father wrote a letter to the Vatican alleging abuse by at least three of the priests. One of the priests, after receiving treatment, petitioned to move to Paraguay and was transferred following a glowing letter from Timlin, the grand jury said. Subsequent bishops disavowed the order.


A diocese spokesman said Timlin, now 91, would not be doing interviews and pointed to information from an attorney contained in a response to the report. That response noted that Timlin instituted a uniform response policy for allegations of abuse and established an internal review board.

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