Harrisburg Bishop releases names of 71 accused priests, deacons, seminarians

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St.Patrick's Cathedral, Harrisburg. Credit: Jon Bilous_Shutterstock

The Diocese of Harrisburg has released the names of 71 priests, deacons, and seminarians accused of sexual misconduct involving children in the diocese during the past 70 years. At the same time, Bishop Ronald Gainer of Harrisburg  issued an apology to abuse survivors.


Gainer made the announcement Wednesday, August 1, at a press conference in Harrisburg. More than half of the individuals named on the list have died, and none are currently in active ministry within the Diocese of Harrisburg.


Along with the list of accused, the diocese also launched the Diocese of Harrisburg Youth Protection Program, a new child protection website. The site offers resources for survivors, information about child protection training, and a mechanism for reporting suspected abuse.  


"Many of those victimized as children continue as survivors to suffer from the harm they experienced. In my own name, and in the name of the diocesan church of Harrisburg, I express profound sorrow and I apologize to the survivors of child sex abuse," said Gainer.


In addition to the apology, Gainer also waived any past confidentiality agreements survivors may have signed as part of legal settlements. This allows past victims to speak publicly about their experiences. It is unclear how many of these settlements exist within the diocese. The USCCB’s Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, a morally binding document amongst American bishops, bans confidentiality agreements from forming part of the terms of any new settlement, except at the request of victims.


The list released by the Harrisburg diocese includes all accusations deemed to be credible by police or diocesan officials, but the diocese said that those on the list should not be assumed to be guilty. Rather, the list contains all historical allegations found in the records from the diocese.


The list includes 37 priests from the diocese, three deacons from the diocese, six diocesan seminarians, nine priests from other dioceses, and 16 members of various religious communities. Many of the allegations have already been made public.


Matthew Haverstick, an attorney for the diocese, said that the list was intended to be “overinclusive,” and contains “every individual against whom an allegation was made and that allegation subsequently has not been disproven by law enforcement.”


Gainer also announced that the diocese would be removing the names of all of the accused from any building or room where they are honored. Buildings bearing the names of past Harrisburg bishops covering the period of alleged abuses will also have their names removed. While the bishops themselves were not accused of inappropriate behavior, Gainer said that Church leaders “must hold themselves to higher standards.”


The accusations include physical misconduct, inappropriate behavior, possession of child pornography and other boundary violations, crimes, and acts of abuse. Gainer said on Wednesday that the list came from the diocese’s own investigation.


The announcement comes shortly before the expected release of a report from the recently completed grand jury investigation into six of the state’s eight Catholic dioceses. Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro has said that the 900-page report includes evidence of “widespread sexual abuse of children and a systemic cover-up by leaders.”  


The investigation has already resulted in the conviction of one priest for the sexual assault of a 10-year-old student during the 1991-92 school year.


The report was initially scheduled for release at the end of June but was held up by legal challenges made by some of those named in it. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has ordered that a partially redacted version be published no later than August 14.

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