WASHINGTON — A few hundred people gathered Wednesday in the cavernous marble sanctuary of the Cathedral of Saint Matthew the Apostle for the 12:10 p.m. Mass celebrating the Feast of the Assumption.
Cardinal Donald Wuerl, archbishop of Washington and former bishop of Pittsburgh, leads Mass at the Cathedral of Saint Matthew a day after a devastating grand jury report was released on widespread clergy abuse of children in Pennsylvania.
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A few parishioners quietly discussed whether Cardinal Donald Wuerl would be there, the day after the devastating grand jury report on sexual abuse in Pennsylvania dioceses named the former Pittsburgh bishop — along with hundreds of other Roman Catholic clergy — and criticized some of his actions.
Cardinal Wuerl was indeed there as the celebrant for the Mass.
He opened the service by saying, “I think we’re all aware of the stories coming out in Pennsylvania ... dealing with child sexual abuse over the years. But here and now let us turn our prayers to Mary and ask for her intercession.”
He said he wanted first of all to pray for victims of sexual abuse “no matter how long ago abuse may have taken place.”
He asked for “Our Lady’s intercession for those who may have caused this,” and added that “we fervently pray that we will be able to work toward restoring confidence and faith.”
Later he said, “We need constantly to be there for the survivors,” and that the church also needs to be there for “those whose faith may have been shaken by the activity or inaction of clergy.”
At least a few parishioners in the front pews wept as Cardinal Weurl spoke from the altar beneath a 35-foot-high mosaic of St. Matthew.
From the fourth row, parishioner Yvonne Priestley shed tears for both her beloved church and for the victims of abuse. She said the cardinal’s description of the church as a “broken vessel” reflected how she felt Wednesday morning when she saw news reports about the abuse scandal.
“I have to pray for the abused. I keep thinking about what happened to them as little kids and what it feels like for them that this reached a point now where they will be believed,” said Ms. Priestley of Hyattsville, Md.
She distinguished the actions of the accused clergy from the church itself.
“To me, the church is under attack, but whatever is happening, the church is still standing. This is God’s church,” she said, “but right now we are a broken vessel.”
In dozens of other dioceses nationwide, there has been no reckoning, leading victims to wonder if the church will ever truly take responsibility or be held accountable.
“It happens everywhere, so it’s not really so much a question of where has it happened, but instead, where has word gotten out, where is information about it accessible?” said Terry McKiernan, a founder of BishopAccountability.org, a Massachusetts-based nonprofit group that tracks clergy sexual abuse cases.
Since the crisis exploded in Boston in 2002, dioceses around the country have dealt with similar revelations of widespread sexual abuse, with many of them forced to come clean by aggressive plaintiffs’ attorneys, assertive prosecutors, or relentless journalists.
In a few instances, namely in Tucson and Seattle, dioceses voluntarily named names.
Dioceses in Boston, Los Angeles, Seattle, Portland, Ore., Denver, San Diego, Louisville, and Dallas have all paid multimillion-dollar settlements to victims. Fifteen dioceses and three Catholic religious orders have filed for bankruptcy to deal with thousands of lawsuits.
Still, only about 40 of the nearly 200 dioceses in the United States have released lists of priests accused of abusing children, and there have been only nine investigations by a prosecutor or grand jury of a Catholic diocese or archdiocese in the United States, according to BishopAccountability.org.
In many of the dioceses that have been examined, the numbers have been staggering: in the six Pennsylvania dioceses, 300 abusive priests and more than 1,000 victims since the 1940s; in Boston, at least 250 priests and more than 500 victims.
All told, American bishops have acknowledged that more than 17,000 people nationwide have reported being molested by priests and others in the church going back to 1950.
Phil Saviano, a Massachusetts man who said he was sexually abused by a priest in 1960s beginning at age 11, said he hopes the grand jury report in Pennsylvania will prompt attorneys general in other states to conduct similar investigations. He said he doubts dioceses will release names unless forced to do so.
“My personal feeling is that none of them are going to come forward voluntarily. It’s always going to take some pressure from the public, the parishioners, or legal authorities,” said Mr. Saviano, whose story was one of many exposed by the Boston Globe in its 2002 Pulitzer Prize-winning series and later in the Oscar-winning movie Spotlight.
This week’s grand jury report in Pennsylvania said church officials gave a former priest a positive reference to work at Disney World, even though they had fielded at least one complaint about him sexually abusing a boy.
The former priest, Edward Ganster, went on to work at Disney World. He died in 2014.
The report cites a letter Allentown’s bishop wrote to Orlando’s bishop in the late 1980s while Ganster was on sick leave at a Catholic mental health hospital. He said Ganster’s problems were “partially sexual” and that he couldn’t reassign him.
Elsewhere, a former Pennsylvania prosecutor was fired Wednesday from his job as an attorney for a county youth services office after a report showed that as prosecutor, he stopped an investigation into alleged child abuse by a priest to gain political favor from the Pittsburgh Diocese.
Former Beaver County District Attorney Robert Masters told a grand jury investigating clergy abuse that he wrote a letter to the then-bishop of Pittsburgh in 1964 saying he was halting an investigation to “prevent unfavorable publicity.”
Information from The Blade’s news services was used in this report.
The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Tracie Mauriello is a reporter for the Post-Gazette.
Contact her at: email@example.com, 703-996-9292, or on Twitter @pgPoliTweets.
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