Response to Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report

Bishop Joseph Kopacz Statement Regarding the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report of Clergy Sexual Abuse:

“The recently released Pennsylvania Grand Jury report detailing cases of sexual abuse going back to the late 1940’s in six Pennsylvania Catholic dioceses, including Pittsburgh, Greensburg, Allentown, Scranton and Erie brings to light more horrific behavior within our church. The report is a stark reminder to all to whom children and young people are entrusted, starting with me in the Diocese of Jackson, that we must redouble our efforts to create safe environments for all vulnerable children of God, younger and older.  Likewise, we must recommit ourselves to exposing past abuse and encouraging victims to come forward.  We must never tire of healing and reconciling the pain that victims and families have suffered through the behavior of church personnel, especially the ordained.  All perpetrators of sexual abuse must be removed from ministry. Because I served in the Diocese of Scranton during the relevant period and am referenced in connection with my handling of three complaints of abuse, I feel it is essential — in keeping with our commitment to transparency — that you be informed of my role in those cases.

I was the Vicar for Priests for eight years in the Diocese of Scranton from 1998 to 2006 during the time that the sexual abuse crisis exploded on the scene.  As the Vicar, it was my responsibility to respond to all allegations of sexual abuse that involved clergy, along with other diocesan officials. Tragically, during that period, I was called upon to respond far too many times to such allegations.  Of those, the report references three instances where I was tasked with responding to the complaints of parishioners.

In the first reference, the victim initially confided in me that she had been abused but stated that she wanted it to be held in confidence. I kept that confidence and made no report. Though her request to maintain the confidentiality of her report was documented in a prepared memo that was available to the Grand Jury, the Grand Jury report excludes this fact.  The report does however confirm that once she removed the restriction of confidentiality, I and other diocesan officials quickly acted to report the abuse to civil authorities and remove the offending priest from ministry.  In the second reference, which involved a deceased priest who had been removed from ministry, the victim requested counseling and I arranged for him to receive counseling. In the third reference, I questioned the offending former priest and despite his denials (and the fact that he had previously been removed from ministry), reported this additional allegation to local authorities.

Forged in the fire of the abuse crisis, the vast majority of dioceses in the United States, including the Diocese of Jackson, have worked hard during the past 16 years to be faithful to the Promise to Protect and the Pledge to Heal, the document we know as the Dallas Charter. The fostering of safe environments in our ministries is now the norm, and the steadfast support for victims of sexual abuse who struggle for healing and hope in their lives, has been an unflagging commitment.

The full document is available through the U.S Conference of Catholic Bishops’ website. The Charter directs action in all the following matters:

  • Creating a safe environment for children and young people;
  • Healing and reconciliation of victims and survivors;
  • Making prompt and effective response to allegations;
  • Cooperating with civil authorities;
  • Disciplining offenders;
  • Providing for means of accountability for the future to ensure the problem continues to be effectively dealt with through the Secretariat of Child and Youth Protection and the National Review Board.

It is my great hope that anyone who has been abused by a member of the clergy or an employee or volunteer of a church come forward. Our victim’s assistance coordinator, Valerie McClelland, a licensed social worker, is available to assist in making a report. You can contact her at (601) 326-3728. Suffering has no statute of limitations.  Sexual abuse is an evil and a crime that wreaks havoc, destruction and despair, and the enemy, the Evil One, loves it, because it is shrouded in darkness, lies and shame. It unleashes the power of hell upon victims and their families and it often spreads from one generation to the next unless the cycle is broken by the light of truth, healing and reconciliation.

With my brother bishops, I offer my apology for the grave sin of sexual abuse and I pledge to continue the needed work to create and maintain a safe environment within our parishes, schools and service centers.”

Most Rev. Joseph R. Kopacz
Bishop, Diocese of Jackson