Catholic bishops in Pennsylvania played a significant role in hiding the widespread sexual abuse of minors by more than 300 Catholic priests across the state, according to the results of a grand jury investigation released this week.
At a news conference Tuesday, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro emphasized that many of the current and former bishops in six Pennsylvania dioceses refused to cooperate with the grand jury. While past investigations of abuse in the Catholic Church centered on individual priests, this latest report highlighted how much the bishops knew about the abusive behavior and the great lengths they went to help cover it up.
“Despite some institutional reform, individual leaders of the church have largely escaped public accountability,” the report states. “Priests were raping little boys and girls, and the men of God who were responsible for them not only did nothing; they hid it all.”
The deeply disturbing 887-page report identifies more than 1,000 victims who were abused by priests in the dioceses of Scranton, Allentown, Harrisburg, Greensburg, Erie and Pittsburgh. The report says there are likely thousands more who didn’t come forward.
James Faluszczak, 48, was one of many witnesses to testify before the grand jury about being abused by an Erie priest. He is a former Northwestern Pennsylvania priest himself and told the grand jury that he also witnessed abuse during his time in the priesthood.
Faluszczak tells Here & Now‘s Lisa Mullins that his childhood pastor, Monsignor Daniel J. Martin, molested him from age 16 to 19. Through hearing Faluszczak’s family members’ confessions, Martin discovered that Faluszczak was struggling with problems at home. Martin died in 2006 at age 88.
“I knew him from the time that I was 5 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,” Faluszczak says.
Faluszczak said he reported the alleged abuse to the Erie Diocese twice — first to Bishop Donald Trautman in 2010, and then to his successor, Bishop Lawrence Persico. He says he had several conversations with Persico from October 2013 to February 2016, in which he also presented allegations on behalf of other victims.
But Faluszczak says the bishop “totally ignored” his claims.
“He certainly treated me as if it was nothing. He didn’t take it seriously,” he says. “When I told him that Father Martin molested me 15 times, he couldn’t even bring himself to say that he was sorry that that happened to me.”
In an interview with All Things Considered on Wednesday, Persico described the findings of the report as “devastating” and admitted that the situation was mishandled by the church. Persico testified before the grand jury.
“Back in 2002, we thought we were moving in the right direction and that these things would be handled properly,” he told NPR’s Audie Cornish. “These are cases going back 70 years, and when you put them all together, for all six dioceses, you just begin to see how tragic this whole thing was, and also the fact that it could’ve been handled better.”
In 2002, U.S. Catholic bishops met in Dallas following revelations in The Boston Globe of child sexual abuse by priests in that city’s archdiocese. The bishops established a set of reforms, which included the creation of independent review boards and the requirement that any allegations be reported to civil authorities. But Faluszczak says when he reported his allegations to Persico, the bishop did not follow these procedures.
“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,” he says. “But I can say that when I told him about Father Martin, he did not enact the investigatory protocols of the Dallas charter.”
Faluszczak says he developed an alcohol addiction because of the abuse he suffered as a child, and in 2014, he was charged with driving under the influence. He left the priesthood shortly after. He says it is likely Persico questioned his credibility because of his drinking problem.
The grand jury report also paints a picture of a Catholic Church replete with priests who were abusers themselves or were willing to watch and condone the abuse. Faluszczak says that description rings true in his experience. He says the secrecy is connected to the myth that priests are true to their official vows of celibacy.
Many experts, including A.W. Richard Sipe, a researcher and psychotherapist who studied clergy sex abuse and treated abuser priests, estimate that at any given time, no more than 50 percent of Roman Catholic clergy are actually celibate.
So when a priest discovers evidence of abuse by a fellow priest, Faluszczak says, he often won’t report it for fear his own indiscretion, albeit not criminal, will be revealed.
“People have a right to express themselves sexually and to be in relationships, and those are normal human needs,” he says. “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.”
Despite his traumatic experiences in the church, Faluszczak says he still considers himself a Catholic.
“The rituals of the church are still important to me,” he says. “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.”