Grand jury names 20 Greensburg priests, 99 from Pittsburgh in Catholic sex abuse report
Systemic efforts to cover-up sexual abuse by clergy in six Pennsylvania Catholic dioceses included not only church officials and bishops in Greensburg and Pittsburgh but reached as high as communications with the Vatican, revealed a long-anticipated grand jury report made public Tuesday.
Backed by more than a dozen adult victims of priest abuse in six Catholic dioceses, state Attorney General Josh Shapiro blasted the church. He said the grand jury that sat for two years in Pittsburgh heard searing testimony from dozens of witnesses and corroborated most of the allegations made against 301 “predator priests” in more than a half million documents secreted away in church archives.
Of those, 20 worked in the Greensburg diocese and 99 in the one based in Pittsburgh.
“There have been other reports of abuse within the Catholic church, but none this extensive,” Shapiro said Tuesday from his Harrisburg office, moments after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court released an edited version of the 884-page report. “It paints a complete picture of abuse and cover-up in every diocese in Pennsylvania.”
Although the grand jury detailed charges by 1,000 victims, Shapiro said investigators believe the actual count over seven decades numbers in the thousands. Victims were consistently brushed aside by church officials intent on protecting the institution rather than its children, he said.
Shapiro featured several victims who testified before the grand jury in a video played prior to his news conference.
“This is not a vendetta against the church. We are called survivors for a reason,” one said.
“This is one of the proudest things I’ve done in my life,” another tearfully added.
Shapiro described in detail instances of child sexual abuse in the Greensburg, Pittsburgh, Erie, Harrisburg, Allentown and Scranton dioceses. The abuse, he said, was only part of the story buried for decades in secret archives controlled by bishops.
“The abuse scarred every diocese. The cover-up was sophisticated, and all the while church leadership kept documents of the abuse and cover-ups,” Shapiro said. “The pattern was abuse, deny and cover up.”
Marci Hamilton, a University of Pennsylvania law professor and founder of ChildUSA, a national think tank dedicated to ending child sexual abuse, said the report carries great significance.
“It’s a monumental report,” she said. “It’s extremely important.”
The report included 36 pages detailing alleged sexual abuse involving the Greensburg diocese.
Shapiro said one priest, Raymond Lukac, was permitted to remain in ministry, simply moved to another diocese, after he fathered a child with a 17-year-old girl, forged a marriage certificate and then divorced her.
Another priest, Robert Moslener, groomed boys by teaching them that Mary had to lick Jesus clean after his birth, he said. “It took another 15 years, and numerous additional reports of abuse, before the diocese finally removed the priest from ministry,” the grand jury reported.
The Rev. Edmond A. Parrakow, according to the report, was allowed to come to the Greensburg diocese from New York in 1985 after admitting to molesting approximately 35 boys over 17 years.
Other findings regarding the Greensburg diocese included:
• Evidence that diocese administrators, including bishops, permitted priests to continue working after child sexual abuse complaints had been filed against them.
• Church officials often used confidentiality agreements in civil settlements that threatened legal action against victims who spoke out publicly about the abuse.
• Diocese administrators, including bishops, “dissuaded victims from reporting abuse to law enforcement.”
• Diocese leaders and bishops failed to properly investigate child sexual abuse claims “in order to avoid scandal and possible civil and criminal liability.”
In Pittsburgh, Shapirio spoke of a group of four priests who took a boy identified as George to the rectory of a Munhall parish and had him stand on a bed and remove his clothes as they discussed the image of Christ on the cross, the grand jury reported. They took Polaroid pictures of the boy, which “were added to a collection of similar photos of other teenage boys,” the report states.
The alleged victim told the grand jury that the priests gave their victims gifts, including gold cross necklaces.
“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 grand jury wrote.
Judy Jones of the national Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, said the report has value only if it spurs action that will help prevent future sexual abuse and cover-ups.
“We urge Catholics to wake up and hold church officials accountable …,” she said. “We appeal to people of good will everywhere to insist that churches and other institutions voluntarily divulge the kind of secret records that Pennsylvania bishops were forced to produce during the grand jury investigation.”
While the bishops of the six dioceses ultimately came to support the release of the grand jury report, at least one organization that claims to represent U.S. Catholics lambasted it.
Bill Donohue of the Catholic League for several weeks has blasted Shapiro for focusing on the Catholic church rather than other institutions where abuse occurs. He said the report exaggerated the scope of the problem by lumping deacons, seminarians and other church figures into the totals.
“Those awaiting a grand jury report on the sexual abuse of minors in the public schools, or among the clergy of other religions, shouldn’t hold their breath,” Donohue said. “It will never happen.”
Shapiro’s office led the grand jury investigation, and he fought to make the panel’s findings public. He said he will continue to push to make the entire report publicly available, not just the edited version released Tuesday.
“These predator priests were allowed to thrive in darkness for decades, but sunshine is a powerful disinfectant,” Shapiro said.
He noted that sections of the report were blacked out to protect the identities of individuals who have challenged their inclusion to the state Supreme court, which will hold a hearing on the matter next month.
Among the 13 clergy members who filed legal objections and whose names were removed from the edited report was Lawrence Brandt, who served as bishop of the Greensburg diocese from 2004-15.
Although he cited no heroes among church officials, Shapiro applauded Bishop LawrencePersico of the Erie Diocese. He noted thatPersico alone, among the six bishops invited, appeared before the grand jury and vowed to make changes. In April, he became the first church official to publish a list of credibly accused priests. Prior to his elevation to bishop, Persico served as chancellor and vicar general in the Greensburg diocese.
AltoonaLawyer Richard Serbin, who has represented about 300 victims of child sexual abuse in dioceses across the state dating to 1987, saluted the grand jury report.
“It’s gratifying that after 30 years of my actions to expose the deceitful actions of church leaders, they are finally being exposed by this report,” he said. “They talked about 300 priests, but the really important number is the number of children who were assaulted by priests due to the inaction of church leaders, and that is probably in the thousands.”
Serbin said many of the victims who came to him were barred from the courts because of the statue of limitations.
Shapiro challenged church leaders across Pennsylvania, who have said the grand jury report reflects the church of the past, to prove their commitment to change by supporting the grand jury’s recommendations that state lawmakers eliminate the statute of limitations regarding sexual abuse entirely and create a two-year window of opportunity for people to file lawsuits. The grand jury also recommended that the law be clarified to state that non-disclosure agreements do not prohibit those who sign them from going to the police.
Shapiro said his campaign to root out predators in the church continues and urged anyone with information about such abuse to call his clergy abuse hotline at 888-538-8541.
Deb Erdley is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Deb at 412-320-7996, [email protected] or via Twitter @deberdley_trib.