Rhina Guidos, Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON — In an Aug. 16 interview with Eternal Word Television Network, Erie Bishop Lawrence T. Persico said the only way to regain the trust of the laity after decades-long claims of sexual abuse by priests and others at six Pennsylvania dioceses is by deeds and one of those deeds may mean getting rid of bishops who hid abusers.
During a report on EWTN’s evening show, reporter Jason Calvi asks him: “Should bishops who knew about or covered up abuse resign?”
“I think they should,” Bishop Persico answered. “I think we need complete transparency if we’re going to get the trust of the people back. We have to be able to demonstrate it.”
Bishop Persico was the only bishop who met in person with members of a grand jury investigating decades-long claims of abuse at six Pennsylvania dioceses. In an explosive report, the grand jury said it identified more than 1,000 who said they were victimized as children by priests and other Church workers in the state.
“I’ve been saying, we can talk about transparency and truth, but much is going to depend upon our deeds, how do we carry that transparency out and how do we act moving forward?” he said during the TV interview. “That’s going to be key to all of this and we have to show that we mean what we’re saying.”
Bishop Persico’s Diocese of Erie, as well as the dioceses of Harrisburg, Allentown, Scranton, Pittsburgh and Greensburg were named in the report released Aug. 14 after an investigation of almost two years.
A grand jury does not determine guilt or innocence but whether there may be enough evidence or probable cause to support a criminal charge. Almost all of the cases in the report were too old for charges to be filed and many of the 301 priests named are dead or no longer in ministry. But Catholic laity have been insisting on some form for accountability for those who may have known of and hidden the abuse.
“We need this transparency and we also need action, so that if there were other bishops or leaders that were negligent, then they need to be removed because the more we cover up, the less credibility we have,” Bishop Persico said.
He said it was important to note that the report documented 70 years of abuse, most of it from 1970s into the 1990s. Following the sex abuse crisis in 2000 in the U.S., the country’s bishops in 2002 approved procedures and protocols “There’s less (abuse)” since then, Bishop Persico said, “but we still have to be on guard.”