HARRISBURG, Pa. (ChurchMilitant.com) - A Pennsylvania bishop is ordering his predecessors' names to be stripped from all Catholic property under his jurisdiction — a penalty for allowing a network of predator priests to flourish in the state capital for decades.
In an unprecedented move, Harrisburg's Bp. Ronald Gainer decreed Wednesday that the name of every diocesan bishop since 1947 will be erased from all Church buildings, rooms and halls. The bishop gave the order during a press conference announcing that an internal diocesan investigation has found that 71 Harrisburg clergy are accused of sexually abusing minors, while bishops looked the other way.
"The information we are releasing today regarding child sexual abuse and the diocese of Harrisburg details some very sad moments in our history," Gainer said.
"When I became bishop in 2014, one my first missions was to verify and resolve the status of clergy in the diocese," he explained. "Over time, we began working with outside counsel and investigators who were able to track down and begin resolving the status of each priest and deacon going back to the 1940s."
"These efforts helped us to compile a complete list of clergy who have been accused of sexual abuse of a person under age 18," the bishop said.
"This investigation has caused the diocese to take a frank look at its past as well as its present," Gainer noted. "Part of that assessment was an evaluation by the diocese of whether any lingering symbols of the sad history revealed in the diocese's files remain. Specifically, the diocese evaluated whether the names carried on certain buildings, rooms and halls in the diocese should remain."
"I have determined that anyone who has been accused of sexual misconduct and appears on our list will have his name removed from any place of honor throughout the diocese," he declared.
The Harrisburg prelate explained his decision further:
As a result of a careful review of historical cases, it was also clear that the leadership of the Church did not, in every case, take adequate measures while handling matters related to offending clerics. With that reality, and after reviewing information with our legal counsel, along with the unanimous recommendation of the "Committee on Naming," which was convened to advise me on these matters, I have directed that the names of every bishop since 1947, the beginning date of the Grand Jury's investigation, be removed from any building, facility or room in the diocese. I agree with the recommendations I have received from my advisors on these matters and I have instructed diocesan staff to begin efforts to change names, effective immediately.
After announcing names of the accused would be struck from Harrisburg's Catholic institutions, Bp. Gainer offered another bold gesture by relinquishing diocesan confidentiality provisions.
"The diocese of Harrisburg has reviewed its historical files and learned that prior to the year 2002, the diocese from time to time entered into settlement agreements with survivors of child sexual abuse and some of those settlement agreements contained confidentiality provisions," he revealed.
"Though it has been the diocese's policy for some time not to enforce those confidentiality provisions, I've learned that some survivors still feel constrained by them. Accordingly, on behalf of the diocese, I waive any remaining confidentiality rights the diocese has in those confidentiality provisions," the bishop announced.
"I take this step about confidentiality so that the survivors can feel free to tell their stories to whomever and whenever they wish," he added. "We continue in our sincere request that survivors come forward so that their situations can be addressed."
During his address, Gainer apologized for the crimes that were allowed to unfold under his predecessors.
"I want to take this opportunity to express my sadness that youth under the Church's supervision were abused. Many of those victimized as children continue as survivors to suffer from the harm they experienced," he acknowledged.
"In my own name, and in the name of the diocesan Church of Harrisburg, I express profound sorrow," the bishop said. "I apologize to the survivors of child sex 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."
Gainer's disclosure comes ahead of the release of a massive grand jury report on clerical sex abuse in Pennsylvania.
The product of a 22-month investigation, the nearly 900-page document is expected to reveal a "pattern of collusion" among six Pennsylvania dioceses — Erie, Allentown, Harrisburg, Greensburg, Scranton and Pittsburgh — to conceal a rampant culture of sexual abuse involving hundreds of predator priests.
In June, the Pennsylvania High Court blocked the report's release, claiming that parties named in it had filed appeals to block publication. State Attorney General Josh Shapiro responded by filing a suit petitioning the court to issue the report. Last week, the court ruled an amended version — with certain names redacted — can be released as early as next week.
Considered the most sweeping probe into clerical sex abuse to date, the findings are expected to shake Pennsylvania Catholics to their core.
"There has never been another grand jury like this," state Rep. Mark Rozzi has warned. "This is going to be the worst report ever."
Reportedly, Pittsburgh alone was home to almost 100 predator priests. From 1988–2006, the diocese was headed by Cdl. Donald Wuerl, who went on to succeed serial sexual predator Theodore McCarrick as archbishop of Washington, D.C.