A deeply disturbing 887-page report issued by a grand jury this week details 70 years of sexual abuse by Catholic priests in six dioceses in Pennsylvania that was covered up by the church. More than 300 priests were identified as abusers. There are more than 1,000 victims identified, and the report says there are likely thousands more who didn’t come forward.
James Faluszczak was one of many witnesses to testify before the grand jury in Pennsylvania about being abused by a priest. He is a former priest himself.
Here & Now‘s Lisa Mullins talks with Faluszczak about his reactions to the scandal.
On his reaction when the grand jury report was released, and his reaction to the cases of widespread abuse
“My first reaction was relief and a sense of vindication. I had been looking for decades for an avenue to share my material, what happened to me as a kid and what I observed as a priest in inappropriate forum…The grand jury was an opportunity for me and for other victims really to have our voice finally be heard.
“The depravity of the abuse… I can’t even describe my reaction to that.
“It wasn’t simply a matter of adult men having sex with children. It was the context of it, that these were men of God and often they used religious symbolism as part of the abuse. So there was a ritual nature to quite a bit of it. And as a religious person, it seemed almost diabolical to me.”
On his own history of being abused by a priest who was close to his family, and how the Catholic Church was a pillar of his community
“I was molested by my childhood pastor from the time I was 16 to 19 years old. I knew him from the time that I was five years old, and he spent all of those intervening years grooming me for the moment when he knew that I would be the most vulnerable.
“My mom and dad trusted him, and I trusted him. I went to him for my first confession in second grade. All of the priests in our parish were really part of the neighborhood. They were part of the fabric of the neighborhood. Church was a central location, not just to worship, but for us kids to play.
“He always seemed to know what I was up to, just in terms of the neighborhood, but he also knew what was going on in my family, because…he heard all of our confessions.”
On attempting to report his abuse to bishops and how his allegations were ignored
“I mentioned it multiple times over the years to priests that I trusted, priests who are my friends, priests who were in charge of me in the seminary. I brought my experience to Bishop Donald Trautman in 2010. I brought this allegation to Bishop Persico…the current bishop of Erie, over a span of time from…October 31, 2013, until well into February of 2016.
“He totally ignored my claims.
“When I told him that Father [Daniel] Martin molested me 15 times, he couldn’t even bring himself to say that he was sorry that that happened to me. By the time I spoke to Bishop Persico, I really wasn’t talking to him about what happened to me, what Father Martin did to me, because I had come to terms with it–I can’t say I was at peace with it or any way near getting over it, I’m still not–but I was more concerned about other allegations of child endangerment, of misconduct in the seminary that affected other people, children and future priests.”
On his response to Persico’s media appearance on NPR, and a claim he brought to Persico about a lay teacher accused of molesting students
“I think Bishop Persico is styling himself as somehow transparent or outside of the norm of the other bishops in the state of Pennsylvania, or in the country. But I can say that when I told him about Father Martin, he did not enact the investigatory protocols of the Dallas charter [Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People] established by the American bishops [United States Conference of Catholic Bishops] in 2002.
“I told him Father Martin molested me 15 times. He never asked where, he never asked the circumstances, no details, he never had the independent review board contact me. I was in contact with him until 2016, and he had all of that opportunity, as I was leaving ministry and after I left public ministry, to ask me about the abuse or investigate the abuse I experienced. And he never did.
“Furthermore, I brought two other sets of allegations to him over a period of time from 2013 to 2016. He did nothing to investigate a lay teacher who had a known history of molesting students in a high school where I was the vice president for Catholic mission. This was an instance of child endangerment.”
On why he believes bishops did not respond to abuse allegations, and his own investigation into allegations of abuse by a lay faculty member
“I think that they’re concerned about their image. I think they’re concerned about their assets. I don’t think that they have regard for the most vulnerable members of their communities. I conducted an investigation at his behest when I was still a priest, to investigate abuse by a lay faculty member, parallel to an investigation being conducted by law enforcement.
“Once I completed my report and submitted it to him–it was a date easy to remember, it was October 31, 2013–he and three other diocesan officials instructed me not to share my report with this law enforcement agent who was also conducting an investigation.”
On his view of the relationship between celibacy and abuse
“Father Donald Cousins, a former seminary rector from Cleveland, Ohio, and Richard Sipe, who just passed away–he was somebody involved in the treatment of abuser priests–they and many others have suggested that 40 to 60 percent of priests are sexually active with adults on a consensual basis. But that’s an epidemic issue–when you have these men who profess to be celibate, standing in front of their community, saying mass, but they’ve got a relationship on the side.
“That gives cover to the abuse, because the abusers can blackmail these priests…A pastor, for example, has a relationship when he’s professed to be celibate, but he has an assistant who is a child abuser, or has a friend who is a child abuser, he’s not going to blow the whistle on that criminal behavior, because his own behavior is going to be found out.
“People have a right to express themselves sexually and to be in relationships, and those are normal human needs. But under the auspices of a promise of celibacy, it becomes a secret that the bishops also have to maintain and a secret that gives cover to the criminal behavior of some of these priests.”
On the reasons, he believes, for why there is such a prevalence of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church
“Most of the men who enter the seminary are psychologically and sexually immature.
“They [church officials] need to open up their administrative structures, their decision making mechanisms to the light of day. These cases and the case files of priests, the personnel files of priest, should not be overseen just by the chancery staff or even by, what Bishop Persico yesterday referred to as, an independent review board. It’s far from independent. These are people selected by the bishop. These things should be managed by lay people, by law enforcement professionals that are identified not just by the bishop or his staff.”
On why he is still Catholic
“I have a sense that God has a relationship with me, that I have a relationship with Christ, and that is mediated through ritual, and so the rituals of the church are still important to me. But I feel that I approach the church more as an adult and more on my own terms than as somebody who does so blindly.”