Anticipating the release of a Pennsylvania grand jury report exposing decades of mishandled sexual abuse cases in the Roman Catholic Church, the bishop of Harrisburg on Wednesday ordered that the names of former bishops dating to the 1940s be stripped from church buildings.This was the first time a bishop has conducted such a sweeping purge…
Anticipating the release of a Pennsylvania grand jury report exposing decades of mishandled sexual abuse cases in the Roman Catholic Church, the bishop of Harrisburg on Wednesday ordered that the names of former bishops dating to the 1940s be stripped from church buildings.
This was the first time a bishop has conducted such a sweeping purge of his predecessors’ legacies, although the names of individual bishops and priests involved in sexual abuse scandals have been excised from church buildings in other dioceses.
Harrisburg is among six dioceses in a heavily Catholic region of Pennsylvania that are bracing for the release of what is expected to be a devastating grand jury report exposing more than 300 priests accused of sexual abuse over seven decades, as well as the bishops who failed to remove them from the ministry. The Harrisburg and Greensburg dioceses had tried last year to end the grand jury’s investigation, according to court records reported by The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
The bishop of Harrisburg, Ronald W. Gainer, also published on Wednesday a list of 71 clergy members, seminarians and church personnel accused of sexual abuse of children since the 1940s and said their names would be removed from church buildings, schools and halls.
Church officials knew for decades about allegations that the former cardinal, Theodore McCarrick, had sexually molested young men training to be priests in New Jersey, but they failed to take action.
With outraged Catholics calling for a Vatican investigation into Archbishop McCarrick, the president of the United States bishops’ conference, Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, the archbishop of Galveston-Houston, released a statement on Wednesday saying that the accusations “reveal a grievous moral failure within the church.” He said that the bishops’ conference had begun to consider a course of action and would “pursue the many questions” raised by the case “to the full extent of its authority.”
Archbishop McCarrick, who is 88, resigned from the College of Cardinals last week after an additional report that for years he had sexually abused a boy he had known ever since baptizing him as a baby. The archbishop, a globally known figure who had led the Washington archdiocese, is set to face a church trial.
The sexual abuse scandal in the American Catholic church exploded in Boston in 2002, leading some bishops to resign amid allegations that they had protected predators or abused minors themselves. Catholics in Pennsylvania have endured several rounds of grand jury investigations and reports that revealed widespread cover-ups.
Representative Mark Rozzi of Temple, Pa., is a survivor of sexual abuse who has become a tenacious advocate for expanding the statute of limitations.
Bishop Gainer is the president of the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, the church’s statewide public policy arm, which has lobbied state lawmakers against expanding the statute of limitations.
Bishop Gainer waived the confidentiality agreements of abuse victims who had received settlements from the diocese, permitting them to speak publicly without fear of legal repercussions. The release of names of the 71 priests, deacons and seminarians who have been credibly accused of abuse in Harrisburg since 1947 covers the period examined by the grand jury.
The bishop said the diocese had also posted new guidelines to prevent child sexual abuse.
The Harrisburg diocese does not know how many places will have the names of bishops or priests removed, a spokesman, Joe Aponick, said. Many parishes have buildings or rooms named after accused priests, he said, and a conference center and a retirement residence for priests are named after former bishops.
With his blanket decree, Bishop Gainer did not say how many of his predecessors had been negligent in handling abuse. The only living former bishop of Harrisburg is Kevin C. Rhoades, who is now the bishop of Fort Wayne-South Bend. Bishop Rhoades did not respond to a request for a comment. The most prominent of Harrisburg’s former bishops is Cardinal William H. Keeler, who as archbishop of Baltimore was the first American bishop to volunteer to post the names of priests accused of abuse in his archdiocese. Cardinal Keeler died in 2017.
Joe Grace, a spokesman for the state attorney general, Josh Shapiro, called the release of the names of accused perpetrators “long past due.” He said that the Harrisburg diocese had previously pushed to end the grand jury investigation.
Another grand jury report, released in 2016, cataloged the scope of abuse in one small Pennsylvania diocese, that of Altoona-Johnstown, and found that bishops there had failed to notify the police or remove abusers from ministry.
News of that last grand jury report prompted hundreds of victims to call a hotline set up in the office of the previous attorney general, Kathleen G. Kane. Her successor, Mr. Shapiro, convened a grand jury that heard testimony from victims over nearly two years.
Bishop Gainer said on Wednesday, “I express profound sorrow, and I apologize to the survivors of sexual abuse, to the Catholic faithful and to the general public for the abuses that took place and for those church officials who failed to protect children.”