Trinity Mount Ministries

Showing posts with label pedophile priests. Show all posts
Showing posts with label pedophile priests. Show all posts

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Scathing Pennsylvania grand jury report accuses hundreds of priests of sexually abusing more than 1,000 children

A scathing grand jury report released Tuesday reveals accusations of sexual abuse against 301 priests — 37 from the Allentown Diocese — whose actions went unchecked for decades in dioceses across Pennsylvania.

Instead of reporting pedophiles, dioceses routinely shuffled them from parish to parish, enabling them to prey upon new victims, the document shows. The statewide grand jury, launched by former Attorney General Kathleen Kane, spent two years on the most exhaustive investigation of the church taken on by a state. It covered allegations in the Allentown, Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh and Scranton dioceses, which collectively minister to more than 1.7 million Catholics.

"The time for institutions to place their own interests above protecting our children is over,” state Attorney General Josh Shapiro said at a news conference moments after the report was released. “I will not tolerate it."

Among those cited as enablers was Allentown’s bishop, Alfred Schlert, who played a role in the diocese’s handling of complaints when he was vicar general, or top aide, to Bishop Edward Cullen. Shapiro pointed out that Schlert was among those promoted in the years since he handled abuse allegations.

The 23 members of the grand jury took testimony from dozens of witnesses. But it was in the church’s own files — more than half a million pages of internal diocesan documents in “secret archives” — that the grand jury found the names of more than a thousand children who were victimized, most of them boys.

“We believe that the real number — of children whose records were lost, or who were afraid ever to come forward — is in the thousands,” the report noted.

Several victims who joined Shapiro at the news conference in Harrisburg wiped tears as a video of their stories played.

Shapiro said the abuse was “systematically covered up by church officials in Pennsylvania and at the Vatican.” He said those officials weaponized the faith, using it against victims and to protect the institution at all cost. Victims were reluctant to come forward, some waiting decades before summoning the courage to tell their stories. Because of that, the grand jury recommended an end to the statute of limitations on criminal cases. “We should just get rid of it,” the report said.

Only one of the six bishops — Erie’s Lawrence Persico — testified before the grand jury, Shapiro said. The others sent statements.

The 884-page redacted grand jury report — with an additional 472 pages in attachments — was to be released by the end of June, but the state Supreme Court halted that when more than a dozen of those named in the report filed objections, claiming the allegations would damage their reputations while denying them their constitutional right to due process.

The Morning Call joined a media coalition appealing the decision that included The Associated Press, The Washington Post and the Philadelphia Media Network, which publishes The Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News. The court decided to release the report with the names of the priests who appealed redacted.

Every redaction, Shapiro said, represents a story that needs to be told.

Shapiro highlighted the case of the Rev. Thomas D. Skotek, who sexually assaulted a girl in the Scranton Diocese while he was pastor of St. Casimir in Freeland in the 1980s and then aided her in getting an abortion when she became pregnant. Bishop James C. Timlin, then head of the diocese, wrote a letter to Skotek informing him that he would be sent for treatment, adding: “This is a very difficult time in your life, and I realize how upset you are. I too share your grief. … Please be assured that I am most willing to do whatever I can to help.” That letter, Shapiro said, was in the diocese’s files.

Arthur Long, a Harrisburg Diocese priest at the time, admitted to a sexual relationship with four or five girls, telling a church official, “God wants us to express our love for each other in this way.”

And in graphic detail, Shapiro summarized an allegation against Monsignor Thomas Benestad, former pastor of Notre Dame of Bethlehem and St. Francis of Assisi in Allentown, who is accused of sexually abusing a boy for two years beginning when the child was 9 and taking catechism classes at St. Bernard's. A nun brought the boy to Benestad because he had worn shorts to class, which was against the rules. Benestad, the report says, told the boy to get on his knees and pray. The priest then forced the boy to perform oral sex on him. And afterward, washed the child’s mouth out with holy water, the report says. Benestad later retired and moved to Florida.

Among the most tragic cases was that of “Joey B,” who was so severely sexually assaulted by the Rev. Edward Graff in the Allentown Diocese that he injured his back and later became addicted to painkillers and overdosed. Before his death, Joey wrote, "Father Graff did more than rape me. He killed my potential.”

Graff, who left the Allentown Diocese in 1988, was jailed in Texas in 2002 on charges of molesting a teenage boy. He also has been accused of abusing state Rep. Mark Rozzi when Rozzi was an altar boy at Holy Guardian Angels parish in Reading in the 1980s. Graff, 73, died in jail in November 2002.

Schlert called the incidents outlined in the report “abhorrent and tragic.” In a written statement, he said, “We apologize to everyone who has been hurt by the past actions of some members of the clergy. We know that these past actions have caused pain and mistrust for many people. The victims and survivors of abuse are in our prayers daily.”
He added that much has changed in the past 15 years, notably, that the diocese immediately removes accused priests from ministry and reports allegations to law enforcement.
Shapiro said the investigation reveals that law enforcement as well as church officials failed to protect children. The “cover-up,” he said, “was sophisticated.”

"They claim to have changed their ways. They claim to have put appropriate safeguards in place," Shapiro said of the dioceses. "Statements are one thing. The proof of their claims will be if they support the grand jury recommendations."

According to the report, Schlert was involved in attempts to discredit a woman who alleged she was molested by the Rev. Francis J. Fromholzer in 1965, when she was a student and Fromholzer a teacher at Allentown Central Catholic High School. Fromholzer denied the allegation, the report notes, and then decided to retire.

In fall of 2002, months after The Boston Globe broke the stories that sparked an international scandal, Schlert, then a monsignor, and Monsignor Gerald Gobitas were receiving discrediting information about victim Juliann Bortz through a diocesan attorney, Tom Traud, who was relying on tips from a priest’s relative.

The diocese’s files show that church officials found Bortz’s accusation against Fromholzer credible and that a second victim had accused him of also touching her inappropriately. That victim was expelled from school, though the report doesn’t specify which school, after reporting the abuse to her principal. The principal, the Rev. Robert M. Forst, told her to repeat the “made up” story to her father, who was known to be abusive. The man responded by beating his daughter, the girl told the grand jury.

The report notes that the diocese was conducting its investigation under the watch of then-Allentown Bishop Edward Cullen, who also was cited in a Philadelphia grand jury report as being among church officials aware of accusations there against pedophile priests who were then reassigned. Cullen served as vicar general in Philadelphia before becoming Allentown bishop in 1998.

Reached at his Lower Macungie Township home Tuesday, Cullen declined to comment to The Morning Call, saying, “I don’t want to discuss anything with you.”

Schlert denied trying to discredit Bortz. “As a diocese, we treat victims with compassion, respect and dignity,” he said. “We did not direct anyone to do otherwise.”

Among the more interesting findings in the report was the correspondence about abuse cases that church officials kept, often as part of its secret archives. Those letters strengthen the report’s conclusions, said Jules Epstein, a Temple University law professor.
“To the extent that this report is based on church documents, the documents speak for themselves,” he said.

Those documents might have been revealed a decade earlier, said Altoona lawyer Richard Serbin and Reading attorney Kenneth Millman, if the lawyers were allowed to pursue the cases of about 100 clients who alleged abuse by Pennsylvania priests. But their cases hit the statute of limitations and never made it to the discovery phase.

Serbin called the grand jury report sad in its at once shocking and depressing detail and, yet, “wonderful in the sense that the public will now know, and the shield of secrecy will come off.”

The report offers victims validation that the law didn’t, Millman said. “That’s why it was so important to have this grand jury report and give them the chance to tell their story and tell people what happened to them”

Attached to the grand jury’s report are roughly 470 pages of responses — from the dioceses that were investigated, to individual priests who were named. In the Allentown diocese, Benestad, Fromholzer and the late Monsignor Anthony Muntone, who was vicar general under Cullen’s predecessor Bishop Thomas Welsh, all submitted responses in which they denied the grand jury’s findings against them.

Benestad accused the panel of falsely implying that he retired because of the allegations.
“Monsignor Benestad has never done anything that would be deemed inappropriate with any individual,” his attorney, John Waldron, wrote.

Muntone, who died in May, denied in his written response that he enabled priests to abuse children.

“It is Monsignor Muntone’s position that during the time frame mentioned in the investigating grand jury he was not in a position of authority to appoint priests to various positions in the [diocese] of Allentown,” wrote Waldron, who was also his lawyer.
Mitchell Garabedian, who represented many of the Boston victims and was featured in the movie “Spotlight,” said those who spoke up about being abused should be commended for having the courage to come forward. He added that the report, “lays out the standard blueprint of dishonesty, immorality, criminality and cover-up of the Catholic Church which has been previously revealed in Boston and archdioceses and dioceses worldwide.”
He called the Vatican “complicit in the cover-up.”

Call to extend limits

It is unclear whether any charges will come out of the report, because of time limits imposed by Pennsylvania’s statute of limitations on child sexual abuse crimes.

Under state law, criminal charges can be filed up to the time the person making the claim of child sexual abuse is 50 years old. Civil claims can be filed for child sexual abuse until the person alleging the abuse turns 30.

Previously released grand jury reports on the other two Pennsylvania dioceses — Philadelphia and Altoona-Johnstown — advocated a two-year window to allow people alleging long-ago abuse to pursue civil claims. Efforts to pass that legislation have stalled or been blocked.

Rozzi, D-Berks, who put forward the legislation, said he will reintroduce legislation to extend the statute of limitations.

Calling the report “monumental,” Marci Hamilton, a Bucks County attorney and the founder of Child USA, an organization that seeks to prevent child abuse, said this and other grand jury reports on abusive priests indicate why victims need more time to make civil claims.
“What these reports are showing is the lack of justice that is being created from the short statute of limitations,” she said.

The church has said changing the statute of limitations would be unfair to schools and parishes and could be financially crippling.

In a letter to be read at Allentown Diocese churches this weekend Schlert apologizes to Catholics for the way the church mishandled cases and reassures them that the diocese has better protections in place to keep the past from repeating.

“I sincerely apologize for the past sins and crimes committed by some members of the clergy. I apologize to the survivors of abuse and their loved ones. For the times when those in the Church did not live up to Christ’s call to holiness, and did not do what needed to be done, I apologize,” Schlert wrote.

“I also apologize to you, the faithful of the diocese, for the toll this issue has taken over the years: the sadness, the anger, the doubts, and the embarrassment it may have brought you as a Catholic. I ask for your forgiveness, and I thank you for your perseverance and for your courageous witness to our faith.”


Grand juries also looked into allegations in the state's other two dioceses.
2005: Philadelphia grand jury investigates allegations against more than 60 priests, finding abusive priests were moved around and not reported to police.

2011: Phildelphia's second grand jury focused on the church's practices since 2005, finding many credibly accused priests remained active; charges are filed against three priests, a teacher and Monsignor William Lynn, who was convicted of recklessly endangering children for not removing an abusive priest. His conviction was overturned, then reinstated and he awaits retrial.

2016: A statewide grand jury into the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese uncovers allegations against more than 50 priests and an effort to keep the complaints secret.

Tim Darragh, Laurie Mason Schroeder, Sarah Wojcik, Carol Thompson and Christina Tatu contributed to this story.