A Catholic bishop ordered the names of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, diocese bishops who preceded him since the 1940s be removed from all diocesan properties, since the bishops didn't protect children from sexual abuse, PennLive reported.
Ronald Gainer, the bishop of the Harrisburg diocese, also released the names of 71 individuals accused of child sex crimes. Of the names listed, 37 were priests in the Harrisburg diocese, three were diocese deacons, six were diocese seminarians, nine were clergy from other dioceses, and 16 were from religious communities, WHTM-TV reported.
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Both moves came just ahead of the release of what is expected to be a scathing, 900-page report into clergy sex abuse in six dioceses, including Harrisburg. The report contains the names of more than 300 clergy and other individuals accused of criminally or morally reprehensible conduct.
A 'gutsy' decision
One official with Villanova University — a Catholic college in the Philadelphia area — told the outlet that Gainer's decision was "gutsy."
"I commend him for stepping forward and showing that the responsibility, the real problem lies with church leadership," Charles Zech, director of the school's Center for Church Management and Business Ethics, told PennLive.
He added to the outlet that "you hear it here and there when someone has been found to not have lived the perfect life, but to remove all of the names is unprecedented. I applaud him for recognizing that they all have been culpable."
PennLive said former bishops of the Harrisburg diocese include:
- Bishop Joseph P. McFadden, 10th bishop, 2010-2013
- Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades, 9th bishop, 2004-2010
- Bishop Nicholas C. Dattilo, 8th bishop, 1990-2004
- Bishop William H. Keeler, 7th bishop, 1983-1989
- Bishop Joseph T. Daley, 6th bishop, 1971-1983
- Bishop George L. Leech, 5th bishop, 1935-1971
Bishop Phillip R. McDevitt, who served until 1935, was not included in Gainer's decision, the outlet said.
Image source: YouTube screenshot
Another notable observer also praised Gainer's move.
"I've never heard of a bishop removing the names of predecessors from properties belonging to the diocese," Nick Ingala — a spokesman of Voice of the Faithful, a Boston-based group of Catholics formed in response to the child sexual abuse crisis in the Archdiocese of Boston — told PennLive. "I think it's an incredibly important symbolic gesture on the part of the bishop to recognize by this action the culpability of previous administration in the covering up of abuse."
'The church hierarchy knew'
But not everyone was happy.
Judy Jones, an official with the Survivors Network, ripped Gainer for the timing of his decisions.
"Church authorities responded only because they were compelled by the public release of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury next week," he told PennLive.
"The church hierarchy knew about the systematic sexual abuse of children and did nothing," Jones continued to the outlet. "While the public has previously known of only ten publicly identified predators in the Harrisburg diocese, the church hierarchy knew, maybe for decades, of sixty other credibly accused clergy. This demonstrates that for church hierarchy, the reputation of the church, and the church hierarchy was more important [than] the safety of children."
How did Gainer reach his decision?
Gainer told the York Daily Record when he became bishop in 2014, the diocese began working to verify the status of priests going back to the 1940s. He added to the Record that the diocese wanted to release the list before, but the state attorney general's office asked them not to so its investigation of Catholic clergy abuses across the state wouldn't be impeded.
The list of names doesn't include assessments of credibility or guilt, WHTM-TV reported. None of those listed are in ministry any longer.
You can read the entire PennLive report here.