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How Parishioners Are Reacting To The Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report


Sexual abuse at the hands of clergy is something that many Pennsylvania Catholics had thought of as happening somewhere else. Now it's hitting home. From member station WESA in Pittsburgh, Virginia Alvino Young reports on how lay Catholics are reacting to the grand jury's report.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Holy Catholic...

VIRGINIA ALVINO YOUNG, BYLINE: Details of the grand jury report came out shortly before a midday Mass at Holy Infancy Roman Catholic in Bethlehem, Pa., Tuesday. Attendee Pat Kastelnik says no abuse is OK, but she believes the report is bringing a disproportionate amount of negative attention to the church.

PAT KASTELNIK: Right now we need to pray for all those priests. Some of them are falsely accused. Some of them are rightly accused.

YOUNG: The grand jury report counted 37 so-called predator priests in Kastelnik's Diocese of Allentown who allegedly fondled and raped boys and girls. It outlined the systematic cover-up from church officials including paid legal settlements to silence victims. Bethlehem churchgoer Bill Egan says he supports the release of the report and greater transparency.

BILL EGAN: I'm hoping that there's an end to this priest abuse scandal. It's been going on for so long.

YOUNG: But the report and its fallout are far from the end. Some of the names of accused priests were redacted following legal challenges. Oral arguments on those cases will be heard in September. And while current bishops around the state face scrutiny for their involvement, they're calling for prayers for victims and for the church. Bishop David Zubik has led the Pittsburgh Diocese for more than a decade.


DAVID ZUBIK: Today I again apologize to any person or family whose trust, faith and well-being has been devastated by men who were ordained to be nothing less than the image of Jesus Christ.

YOUNG: Priests in Pittsburgh allegedly engaged in sadomasochistic behavior with children, created child pornography on church grounds and assisted other priests in targeting young boys. According to the report, Bishop Zubik was involved in the relocation of alleged predatory priests to other parishes decades ago. Now he says the local church has learned from the past.


ZUBIK: The Diocese of Pittsburgh today is not the church that is described in the grand jury report. It has not been that way for a long time.

YOUNG: Zubik says over the past 30 years, the diocese has made significant changes to how it prevents abuse and reports allegations, changes which some of his parishioners like 84-year-old Joe Wassermann praise. But before morning mass today, Wassermann said the report illustrates human weakness. And he would like to see more accountability for those who abuse their power.

JOE WASSERMANN: I think Christ started a church, and the people who have tried to continue that church continually mess it up because we're - we can be miserable human beings. What else can I say?

YOUNG: The findings of the report may affect victims' faith, says parishioner Rosalie Ferebee, especially at a time when she says they may need the church the most.

ROSALIE FEREBEE: I guess the victims - to be violated in such a way where they might sever ties with the church, where that's, like, the only place to really find solace or hope or any I guess reprieve from the suffering.

YOUNG: Multiple churchgoers in Pittsburgh said this is a time to rely on their faith rather than abandon the church, among them Tom Schoffstall and his wife.

TOM SCHOFFSTALL: We were shocked. And we're just - no, we're not going to burn our Bible. Everybody does things wrong. And hopefully prayer is going to take care of everything because with prayer and with God, everything's possible.

YOUNG: Abuse survivors, the grand jury and Pennsylvania's attorney general's office would like to see something more concrete - legal changes. They're calling for the state to lift its statute of limitations on child sex crimes. That statute currently prevents nearly all the priests identified in the grand jury report from facing charges. For NPR News, I'm Virginia Alvino Young in Pittsburgh. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Virginia Alvino