Victim Blasts Pope’s Block of Abuse Reforms

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by Anita Carey  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  November 20, 2018   

'My confidence in the leadership of the Church is broken'

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ALLENTOWN, Pa. (ChurchMilitant.com) - A victim of an abusive priest claims the bishops' lack of action is abusing him all over again.

After the Pennsylvania grand jury report named Edward Ganster as an abusive priest, more people have come forward asserting they were abused at his hands. James Zeigler is one of them. He reached out to Church Militant, not to tell another graphic story of abuse, but to decry how the Church's lack of action is hurtful to the victims. 

"It is amazing to me that now, even today, the lengths that the dioceses, the Vatican, the bishops are going to to try to ... preserve their secrecy, their lies, their deceit," he said. "It's almost like being abused all over again."

On the night before the bishops were to gather for their General Assembly in Baltimore, Maryland, Pope Francis directed the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) president, Cdl. Daniel DiNardo, they should not vote on reforms of Church policy on handling sexual abuse allegations. 

On the final day of the assembly, the bishops did vote on a measure that would have asked the Vatican to release all the documents they had on ex-Cdl. Theodore McCarrick's sexual abuse.

That measure was soundly defeated by a margin of 137 to 83 with three abstentions. While the faithful do not know which bishops voted to continue the silence, the numbers line up with the 90 bishops that have publicly called for the release of the documents. 

Zeigler noted that the diocese of Allentown did not have a public statement on the Pope's dismissal of their resolution: "I found it particularly infuriating, my diocese is one of the big three that were named by the grand jury."

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The diocese of Allentown responded that Bp. Alfred Schlert did release a statement at the conclusion of the General Assembly. In it, he agreed with the directions of the bishops to establish measures to oversee the bishops and address allegations of misconduct. 
 
"I am in strong support of these actions, and I am confident that effective measures of accountability for American Bishops will flow from our work in these past few days in Baltimore," Bp. Schlert said. 
 
Like many other victims, Zeigler said his family was devoutly Catholic and he was active in the Church as an altar server. After their beloved pastor retired, Ganster was assigned to the parish.
 
"He converted the second floor of the rectory into pretty much a Walt Disney World for children," he said. "Rooms with games, Walt Disney figures, train sets, whatnot. The abuse happened at that time."

As many of Ganster's other victims testified, he would also abuse them in his house in Jersey Shore, where he would take them on overnight trips, or in the rectory.

Zeigler claims he was abused for about a year and noted Ganster "was very much into physical pain." The abuse only stopped when Ganster injured himself cutting down a tree.

"The diocese transferred him, and that was the last I heard of Ed Ganster for quite some time," he noted. 

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Mary and Ed Ganster (courtesy of the family)

After 11 transfers and three sick leaves, in 1990, Ganster decided to leave the priesthood to marry a former nun he met while they were both in St. John Vianney Center, the diocese's treatment facility, in Downingtown, Pennsylvania. Ganster wrote to the diocese of Allentown explaining his wishes for a good reference from the diocese so that he could work at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida. 

The grand jury report noted the diocese provided the good reference and recorded that he was hired by Walt Disney World. Ganster worked there as a train operator for 15 years until his death in 2014 from a heart attack. 

His widow, Mary Ganster, told the Orlando Sentinel a different story about her husband's history: "He had a breakdown, which moved him to seek laicization from the pope."

Growing up in a strict and devout Catholic family, Zeigler never spoke of the abuse. The Church meant a lot to their family, and the parish priest was a central figure to their family. 

"It was tough to tell to tell somebody, and I had those ideas, like every other victim, that they wouldn't be believed," he said.  

He admitted being "completely messed up over this" and became a heavy drinker when he was between 14 and 15 years old. 

When he was around 22, Zeigler contacted the diocese. He said that was during the time where there were no victims' advocates. They provided professional counseling whenever he asked for it, and Zeigler said he spoke with myriad monsignors and priests who have tried to get him reconciled to the Church. 

We've waited for 50 years. This has been nothing but stalling — to protect what?

Zeigler says his faith has not been shaken by this. "My confidence in the leadership of the Church is broken," he said. 

"I've been practicing in my own way," he explained. "Going to Mass and official Church functions have always been very difficult."   

Zeigler was adamant that this is not about getting money from the Church.

"I never, ever thought to hold my fellow Catholics responsible for what had happened by going after the diocese or the Church for recompense," he said. "Money isn't going to change the feelings I've had over the past 40 years. It won't resolve what happened."

"This is about taking all our parishioners' money and using it to hide and make places for them to go to continue the abuse," he said. He was "at a loss of understanding" as to why the diocese would send abusers to "such a target-rich environment like Walt Disney World." 

Matt Kerr, the director of communications for the diocese of Allentown, said, "Regarding the 1990 Ganster recommendation: That should have never happened and would not happen today." 

Zeigler said with such large expenditures of money, there was no way that the popes weren't aware of the problems in the Church.

"It goes to the Vatican," he said. "The order of the Pope to stop the U.S. bishops from issuing a resolution, how much more does anybody need?"

"We've waited for 50 years. This has been nothing but stalling — to protect what?" he asked.

Zeigler said another reason for speaking was to thank Church Militant and others for "taking up the issue and fighting for us."

"We are so small and our numbers are so great that we get lost," he said. "It gives me some sort of a good feeling to know that there is somebody out there that is trying to force answers."

This report was updated after the diocese of Allentown responded to our query. 

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