Amid scru­tiny, lin­ger­ing woes for church

Do­na­tions from the faith­ful are down af­ter state grand jury re­port in what may be a new sta­tus quo as fed­eral, state au­thor­i­ties in­ves­ti­gate around the U.S.

The Morning Call (Sunday) - - FRONT PAGE - By Tim Dar­ragh

Karen Votta is a “born and bred” Catholic who felt her­self drift­ing from the church as the “Spot­light” sex abuse scan­dal ex­ploded out of Boston in 2002.

De­spite her dis­ap­point­ment, the Beth­le­hem woman says she con­tin­ued to at­tend Mass oc­ca­sion­ally and send con­tri­bu­tions to the church.

But the lurid Pennsylvania grand jury re­port re­leased in Au­gust, ex­pos­ing 301 al­legedly abu­sive priests and more than 1,000 vic­tims in six dio­ce­ses across the state, made Votta ques­tion the church — but not her be­lief in Je­sus — even more deeply.

“I am Catholic, although I don’t know why I keep stick­ing around,” Votta said. “The church just keeps mak­ing it harder and harder to be a good Catholic. My whole Catholic fam­ily has drifted away.”

Rev­e­la­tions of sex­ual mis­con­duct by priests and cover-ups by their su­pe­ri­ors have not only dam­aged the re­la­tion­ship of laity like Votta to the church, but also ap­pear to be cut­ting into weekly col­lec­tions as well — im­pacts that one study sug­gests may be per­ma­nent. And while it is too early to know how deep the harm will be, the scan­dal will re­main front and cen­ter in Penn­sylva-

nia and across the coun­try well into 2019, leav­ing a wound that may take a long time to heal. Con­sider:

■ The FBI is in­ter­view­ing sex abuse sur­vivors and has put Pennsylvania dio­ce­ses and the U.S. Con­fer­ence of Bishops on no­tice that they should not de­stroy po­ten­tially rel­e­vant doc­u­ments.

■ Four­teen states have un­der­taken ac­tion to con­duct a Pennsylvania-style grand jury in­ves­ti­ga­tion of Catholic dio­ce­ses in their ju­ris­dic­tion.

■ Pennsylvania At­tor­ney Gen­eral Josh Shapiro says at­tor­neys gen­eral from 40 states have spo­ken to him or his top deputy about the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, sug­gest­ing more in­ves­ti­ga­tions may be com­ing.

■ The clergy sex abuse hot­line that Shapiro set up has re­ceived 1,400 calls, some with po­ten­tially new in­for­ma­tion.

“A num­ber of these calls have in­ter­est to us,” said Shapiro spokesman Joe Grace.

■ Pay­outs to sur­vivors from dioce­san com­pen­sa­tion funds likely will be­gin in 2019. While the dio­ce­ses say they will not use par­ish col­lec­tions to fi­nance the pay­outs, they will draw down re­sources, such as re­serve funds and real es­tate, and in­cur new costs in in­ter­est pay­ments on com­pen­sa­tion fund loans.

Catholics may be sig­nal­ing their dis­ap­proval with their wal­lets. Pas­tors have re­ported to the dio­cese that col­lec­tions are “down slightly” since the grand jury re­port came out, Al­len­town Dio­cese spokesman Matt Kerr said.

At­ten­dance at Mass, he said, has held steady.

Catholics such as An­thony LaPedula of Al­len­town said the rev­e­la­tions were up­set­ting, but would not get be­tween him and his faith.

“I still have my faith and most of the Catholics that I know do, too,” said LaPedula, who con­tin­ues to go to Mass.

The church will have to man­age the sit­u­a­tion in the midst of a long de­cline in its ranks. Ac­cord­ing to Gallup, Catholic Church at­ten­dance has fallen from 45 per­cent in 20052008 to 39 per­cent in 2014-2017. In 1955, at­ten­dance was 75 per­cent, it said.

Kerr said some of the faith­ful re­main “un­der­stand­ably an­gry” about clergy sex­ual abuse.

“Oth­ers have told us that Bishop [Al­fred] Sch­lert’s pol­icy of im­me­di­ate re­moval of ac­cused priests, im­me­di­ate no­ti­fi­ca­tion of law en­force­ment and trans­parency in co­op­er­a­tion with law en­force­ment is re­as­sur­ing to them, and gives them hope that the church is tak­ing ap­pro­pri­ate ac­tion to elim­i­nate abuse and keep chil­dren safe,” Kerr said.

Sch­lert reaf­firmed his per­sonal com­mit­ment in a state­ment last week.

If the scope of the grand jury re­port shocked the faith­ful, the in­ves­ti­ga­tion or­dered by Wil­liam McSwain, U.S. at­tor­ney for the East­ern District of Pennsylvania, could be even worse. McSwain in Oc­to­ber asked all of the na­tion’s bishops to pre­serve per­son­nel records and any doc­u­men­ta­tion re­lat­ing to sex­ual abuse. Le­gal experts said if fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors can show church lead­ers sys­tem­at­i­cally covered up for child mo­lesters in the last five years, the dio­ce­ses could be charged un­der the Rack­e­teer In­flu­enced and Cor­rupt Or­ga­ni­za­tions Act, the law used to bring down the Mafia.

Sur­vivors of pri­est sex abuse who were in­ter­viewed for the Pennsylvania grand jury in­ves­ti­ga­tion say they have been con­tacted in re­cent weeks by the FBI.

“It seemed that they want ma­te­ri­als from any­where at any time, no mat­ter how old,” said David Cerulli, who was mo­lested by a pri­est in Al­len­town in the 1960s.

Diana Vo­j­tasek, a Read­ing area woman who al­leged she was forced into a sex­ual re­la­tion­ship with for­mer pri­est James Gaffney, said she re­ported to the FBI another woman who had re­cently come for­ward about her al­leged abuse to her.

“They’re swim­ming in in­for­ma­tion,” Vo­j­tasek said of the FBI.

Ac­cord­ing to the re­port, Gaffney was in­ter­viewed twice be­fore the grand jury and ad­mit­ted hav­ing sex­ual con­tact with at least one mi­nor. He told the grand ju­rors that it was pos­si­ble he had sex with other girls, but couldn’t re­mem­ber, the re­port said. Au­thor­i­ties learned of the al­le­ga­tions long af­ter the statute of lim­i­ta­tions had ex­pired, so Gaffney has not been charged.

In­ves­ti­ga­tors have seen a “surge of new sur­vivors” come for­ward across the coun­try fol­low­ing the re­lease of the Pennsylvania re­port, said Zach Hiner, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Sur­vivors Net­work of those Abused by Priests. The or­ga­ni­za­tion has been work­ing closely with the FBI, he said.

“Sev­eral of our lead­ers have been con­tacted by U.S. at­tor­neys and in some cases, like in Wash­ing­ton D.C., have worked to­gether to set up hot­lines and sur­vivor sup­port re­sources to not only en­cour­age peo­ple to come for­ward but to pro­vide them with help and in­for­ma­tion when they do,” he said.

With the crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion con­tin­u­ing, dio­ce­ses in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York are plan­ning or al­ready im­ple­ment­ing com­pen­sa­tion funds ad­min­is­tered by third par­ties to pro­vide a mea­sure of ac­count­abil­ity to sur­vivors. The Al­len­town Dio­cese has said it will cre­ate a fund but has not re­leased de­tails such as how big the fund will be and when it will start com­pen­sat­ing vic­tims.

“We re­ceived many pos­i­tive com­ments about our plan to pro­vide an op­por­tu­nity for vic­tims and sur­vivors to re­ceive com­pen­sa­tion in a com­pas­sion­ate fo­rum as one as­pect of their heal­ing,” Kerr said.

Oth­ers, how­ever, said they will con­tinue to de­mand that state leg­is­la­tures open a lim­it­ed­time win­dow to sur­vivors who are barred from su­ing the church be­cause of statutes of lim­i­ta­tions. State Rep. Mark Rozzi, D-Berks, said he will con­tinue to push for a bill next ses­sion in Har­ris­burg.

“I think 2019 will be a very big year,” said Marci Hamil­ton, CEO of Child USA, which ad­vo­cates for laws that pro­tect chil­dren. She ex­pects Pennsylvania and other states to pass win­dows.

If that hap­pens, she said, it’s likely that the ma­jor­ity of law­suits would be filed by those abused not by priests, but by fam­ily mem­bers and friends, coaches and oth­ers.

Hamil­ton said com­pen­sa­tion funds are pos­i­tive de­vel­op­ments for sur­vivors who do not want to go through the court sys­tem.

The vast­ness of the abuse, the church’s at­tempts to cover it up by re­as­sign­ing priests, and the pos­si­bil­ity of new al­le­ga­tions should be trou­bling to church of­fi­cials think­ing long term, ac­cord­ing to re­searchers who stud­ied the ef­fects of Catholic Church scan­dals be­tween 1980 and 2010 on church par­tic­i­pa­tion and giv­ing. The study, pub­lished in 2015 in the Jour­nal of Pub­lic Eco­nom­ics, found a per­sis­tent de­cline of 1.3 per­cent of all char­i­ta­ble giv­ing oc­curred in ZIP codes where a scan­dal emerged. Re­li­gious par­tic­i­pa­tion of all kinds, in­clud­ing vol­un­teer­ing in re­li­gious pro­grams, fell 3 per­cent for ev­ery scan­dal, it said.

The sharpest dropoffs in par­tic­i­pa­tion and giv­ing come in the first cou­ple years af­ter a scan­dal, the re­searchers found. Af­ter that, they plateau but never re­turn to pres­can­dal lev­els, ac­cord­ing to the study.

“We don’t see any re­cov­ery” from those losses, said one of the re­searchers, Ri­cardo PerezTruglia, an eco­nom­ics pro­fes­sor at UCLA An­der­son.

The drop in church giv­ing, based on anal­y­sis of IRS records from ar­eas where Catholic church scan­dals oc­curred, was es­ti­mated at $2.36 bil­lion ev­ery year, it said. Mean­while, cit­ing fig­ures from bishop-ac­count­abil­ity.org, a watch­dog group, the amount the church has spent set­tling law­suits and pay­ing le­gal costs over the last 40 years is $3 bil­lion.

De­spite the scan­dals and the money they cost, the re­searchers came across one item that should bring re­lief to the church. Re­li­gious be­liefs are deeply in­grained, they found, so most peo­ple, even if they left the church in dis­gust, re­tained a be­lief in God and the af­ter­life.

MARC LEVY/AP FILE PHOTO

Sur­vivors of child sex­ual abuse hug in the Pennsylvania Capi­tol while await­ing leg­is­la­tion in Oc­to­ber to re­spond to a land­mark state grand jury re­port on child sex­ual abuse in the Ro­man Catholic Church.

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