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WASHINGTON (ChurchMilitant.com) - Embattled Bp. David Zubik continues to deny involvement in a massive sex abuse cover-up in the diocese of Pittsburgh.
In a Monday evening interview with Fox News' Bret Baier, the Wuerl loyalist insisted his hands and conscience are clean, in spite of what the Pennsylvania grand jury report revealed last week.
When challenged by Baier on his record, Zubik rehashed the same talking points he's been peddling to the public for days, namely: Since his predecessor, Donald Wuerl, became head of the diocese in 1988, Pittsburgh has been a model of sex-abuse clean-up, not cover-up.
Baier began by challenging Zubik, pointing out that apologies and rhetoric aren't going to cut it this time.
"Repentance is one thing," he said, "accountability is another."
"The Church of Pittsburgh today is different than the Church of Pittsburgh that's recounted in that particular report," he said, returning to his mantra. "Because I can say clearly over the course of the last 30 years, we've been a leader in implementing a number of reforms that were meant to protect children and to respond to victims."
The bishop continued by offering Baier examples of steps taken to protect the young Catholics of western Pennsylvania:
Starting back in the 1980s, we were one of the first dioceses to do a clergy sexual misconduct policy. We also invited outside independent review boards to take a look at allegations. We also hired a diocesan assistance coordinator who works with victims. I say those things because one of the things that the statistics will show in the diocese of Pittsburgh is: 90 percent of allegations in the diocese of Pittsburgh were reported before 1990, and the fact that there's been a dramatic drop over the course of the last 25 years says that those policies and those procedures have worked.
Baier appeared unimpressed.
"What is in this grand jury report is that there was this cover-up, they allege, for years, under your predecessor — now the cardinal here in Washington — Donald Wuerl," Baier said.
"Bret, let me say that there was no cover-up," Zubik answered, persisting with his denials.
The bishop then attempted to "correct" the grand jury's findings.
"Because there were so many reports after the grand jury report came out about there being a cover-up, I felt that it was important that we needed to be able to share with people information that showed that not to be true," he said, noting that "in the grand jury report ... there is, in fact, a response from the diocese of Pittsburgh that corrects misinformation."
But the diocese's response doesn't "correct misinformation," as Zubik asserted. It merely attempts — weakly — to poke holes in the grand jury's findings.
For example, in the case of predator priest Fr. Ernest Paone, the report described Wuerl approving Paone's transfer to Nevada, despite knowing the priest's history. In its response, the diocese maintained Wuerl and Zubik were unaware of Paone's history of molestation, suggesting his file had been "misplaced."
Responding to the case of Fr. George Zirwas, the diocese said only that "Today, we would have handled the Zirwas case much differently. We would have immediately removed Zirwas from ministry and reported the allegation to the appropriate District Attorney."
Regarding Fr. Richard Zula, the diocese noted that "The Report takes issue with the fact that the Diocese of Pittsburgh paid for professional medical help for Zula and continued to provide him with sustenance." It justified Wuerl and Zubik's actions by saying, "Canon law required the Diocese of Pittsburgh to support Zula."
Baier then played two clips back-to-back for the bishop: One of Cdl. Wuerl's interview with homosexualist priest Fr. Thomas Rosica a week before the release of the grand jury report, and another of Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro responding to the prelates' refrain that most of the documented abuse cases pre-date their episcopates and that they did nothing to cover them up.
"Right now, when you hear of abuse, when you hear of a case of abuse," Wuerl told Rosica on Aug. 7, "they're talking about things that happened decades ago, for the most part. I don't think this is some massive, massive crisis. It was a terrible disappointment."
"Child rape is rape, whether it occurred in the 1980s, '90s or in 2018. It is never acceptable, and it is never OK to cover it up, as Bp. Zubik did and as Cdl. Wuerl did," Shapiro thundered.
"So I want to ask you," Baier queried after playing the clips, "do you think this is a massive, massive crisis?"
Zubik refused to answer directly, responding only with: "That one person would be hurt would be one too many."
The bishop then returned to insisting his record, along with Wuerl's, is laudable: "I want to say, it has to be addressed in the Church, and we've done a number of things over the course of the years and we've continued to build on what we've done and we continue to move ahead with other things that we need to do, again, on behalf of — "
Baier interrupted: "Would you support — the bishops support — more grand jury investigations in other states?"
Zubik replied, "I-I think it would be important for anything that's going to help curb sexual abuse of minors — "
Again, Baier interrupted: "Even the recommendations that the statute of limitations be lifted?"
"Uh, Bret, I take a public position on that, that I think all of those things are very important to consider, as long as it applies to every institution in society," Zubik responded vaguely.
Baier pressed him further: "What about an independent investigation looking at money — audits? ... Would the bishops commit to opening up their books ... to determine money, and where it flowed?"
"I can't speak for the rest of the bishops, but I'm going to just simply say whatever step it's going to take to curb this problem, it needs to be done," Zubik offered.
Baier continued: "And even if they happened a long time ago, are those people out of the Church ... can there be a confidence that those people are out of the Catholic Church?"
The question confused Zubik.
"And, you're talking about the victims?" he asked.
"No, I'm talking about the priests, the people who ... you know, the cover-up," Baier shot back, clearly frustrated. "Are there other indications that this Church is cleaning out from the bottom up?"
"Absolutely so," Zubik said, returning once more to his talking points. "I think that the Church of Pittsburgh is one of those. To see all the things that we've done 30 years ago really helped to curb sexual abuse. And we want to continue to build on all those things to help people to heal, on all levels."
Baier, a liberal but practicing Catholic, then posed his final question to the bishop: "Last thing: Do you think that the Pope is considering looking at celibacy and allowing married people to serve as priests?"
Glancing upward, Zubik responded carefully.
"To tell you the truth, Bret, I don't think that celibacy is the core problem," he replied. "I say that because the most frequent incidents of sexual abuse takes place in the home."
The bishop then fell silent. Just moments after declaring "whatever step it's going to take to curb this problem, it needs to be done," Zubik chose to not articulate what he thinks the core problem is.