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Marianists’ leader apologizes to Pittsburgh diocese for sexual abuse allegations

The head of the religious order that runs Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic High School wrote a letter of apology to the Diocese of Pittsburgh because of allegations that eight members of the order abused students from 1945 to 1990.

The Rev. Martin A. Solma, provincial of the Marianist Province of the USA based in St. Louis, wrote that the allegations have “caused us much shame and deep remorse for the behavior.”

Nineteen victims came forward in recent months in what has become one of the largest sex abuse scandals in the history of the Diocese of Pittsburgh. The letter, dated May 27, was published on the front page of the Pittsburgh Catholic newspaper, which was available Friday. The newspaper also is distributed at weekend Masses.

Solma apologized to the victims, the Catholic community of Pittsburgh and to Bishop David Zubik “which had entrusted the Society of Mary with the important responsibility for the Catholic education of students in the diocese. In these abusive instances, that trust was betrayed and our service to the diocese tarnished.”

Solma said today’s policies and procedures will prevent problems.

“In asking for forgiveness, I only hope that the misdeeds of these Brothers do not entirely nullify the service and witness of others who have served the mission of the Diocese of Pittsburgh more faithfully,” Solma wrote.

Zubik said the Marianists sent the letter on their own and wanted it published in the newspaper. Zubik said it was good the apology extended not only to victims but to the entire Diocese.

“I think it was important to apologize. I thought it was also sensitive to apologize to the faithful of the Church of Pittsburgh,” Zubik said. “The Church wants to continue a safe environment.”

The oldest allegation dates to the 1940s, the Rev. Ron Lengwin, spokesman for the Diocese, has said.

The Marianists, who run 19 high schools across the country, have said they had no knowledge of any alleged abuse until reading media reports.

The North Catholic scandal erupted March 20 when the diocese learned that Marianist Brother Bernard Hartman, 74, a former science teacher at North Catholic, is awaiting trial in Australia on charges that he molested four students at a Catholic school there in the 1970s and ‘80s.

Lengwin said the diocese reacted promptly, sending two letters to North Catholic graduates, which generated reports of abuse.

Carmen DiGiacomo, a 1959 graduate of North Catholic who sends out a monthly class newsletter, said the apology letter is the right thing to do. When he was in school, he said, he heard rumors but never anything concrete.

“I have to applaud the Diocese for being proactive and getting to the bottom of this issue. It obviously had some effect,” said DiGiacomo, 72, of Mt. Lebanon. “I think that’s the right way to go. Hopefully those victimized will have some closure and everyone can move on.”

Judy Jones, Midwest Associate Director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, wants the diocese to send letters to all Catholic school alumni in the Diocese of Pittsburgh. Lengwin has said there’s no plan for that.

“Father Martin A. Solma and Bishop Zubik need to use their vast resources to reach out to other victims of the eight Marianist brothers who are accused of sexually abusing children,” Jones said. “Previously we asked Bishop Zubik to write letters to all Pittsburgh Catholic school alumni urging victims to come forward about any abuse that may have occurred in this diocese.”

North Catholic was renamed Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic High School in 2013. The Troy Hill building will close at the end of the school year and the school will move to a new campus in Cranberry in the fall.

Lengwin confirmed the apology letter at a media breakfast Friday at St. Mary of Mercy Church, Downtown, where Zubik addressed expanding the priesthood, the collapse of steel towns and ongoing school consolidation.

“We’re striving to be more open and more engaged in the wider world,” Zubik said. “Pope Francis says that in a world that suffers from poverty, exclusion and conflicts of all kinds, the media can really help us feel closer and create a community.”

Staff writer Megan Harris contributed to this story. Bobby Kerlik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7886 or [email protected].


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