Among the reams of damning accusations against Pennsylvania clerics that Attorney General Josh Shapiro highlighted Tuesday, one incident involving a longtime Scranton bishop stood out.
In the 1980s, then-Bishop James C. Timlin helped cover up an allegation that a priest had raped a 17-year-old girl in Luzerne County and procured an abortion for her, according to the report.
During his Harrisburg press conference about the grand jury report detailing alleged abuse by more than 300 Pennsylvania Roman Catholic priests, including 59 in the Scranton Diocese, Shapiro read an excerpt from a letter Timlin wrote regarding the rape case.
“This is a very difficult time in your life and I realize how upset you are,” Shapiro quoted from Timlin’s letter. “I too share your grief.”
And then, the blow.
“Except the bishop didn’t write that letter to the girl,” Shapiro said. “The bishop wrote that letter to the priest.”
According to the grand jury report, The Rev. Thomas D. Skotek sexually assaulted the girl while serving as pastor of St. Casimir in Freeland between January 1980 and March 1985. The victim became pregnant, and Skotek helped her obtain an abortion.
It was one of the examples Shapiro used to demonstrate the grand jury’s finding that church officials in the six affected dioceses showed “a complete disdain for victims,” and what the report called an example of “institutional failures.”
Skotek was not removed from ministry until 2002. It was not immediately clear where he is today.
The retired Timlin, 91, who was bishop from 1984 to 2003, would not be doing interviews in response to the report, diocesan spokesman Bill Genello told the Times Leader. Genello referred a reporter to responses from an attorney, regarding Timlin’s conduct, contained in the report.
Current Bishop Joseph Bambera addressed the report more generally in a Scranton press conference Tuesday following Shapiro’s remarks.
“I apologize this afternoon. I apologize to victims,” Bambera said. “No words that I share will ever be able to take away the pain that you have and continue to experience in your lives, nor can I fully understand what you have and continue to go through. But you need to hear from me that not only do I apologize, but the church clearly let you down when individuals that you should have been able to trust stole your childhood and stole some of the heart and soul of any human being’s life.”
“I apologize to families of victims,” he continued. “One can only imagine what you have gone through as you have watched individuals that you love suffer so senselessly as innocent victims. I apologize to the parishioners and faithful of the Diocese of Scranton. You look to your church as a source of consolation and peace. And you don’t deserve to hear the contents of this report as you gather to pray each day in our parishes.”
“And finally, I apologize to the community at large. Such actions that are reported in the Grand Jury report have no place in a civilized society. They certainly don’t have any place in the Church, where individuals who put themselves before us as those that should be able to be trusted to lead us through life betrayed that trust.”
Bambera stressed the diocese cooperated throughout the entire investigation.
“The Diocese of Scranton fully cooperated with the Grand Jury investigation, beginning when we first received the subpoena regarding the grand jury on Sept. 1, 2016,” he said.
“We offered over 250,000 pages of documents spanning 70 years. The details of the report, as you have heard, are horrific, they are heartbreaking, they are demoralizing. They reflect a very dark period in the history of the Catholic Church, and I dare say that in the history of the Diocese of Scranton, which is 150 years old this year, this by far is the darkest moment in our history.”
He assured parishioners that in the past 15 to 20 years, the procedure in which the diocese handles allegations of abuse had changed and improved drastically.
“You should know that over 90 percent of the cases that were described in this report pertaining to the Diocese of Scranton took place prior to the year 2000,” Bambera said.
“That’s a very important signal to me that the efforts that we have been about these past two decades are, in fact, working. And we do respond to allegations of abuse in a very different way.”
Even with new procedures in place, Bambera acknowledges the lasting impact the report will have on the diocese.
“This is a difficult time for all of us,” he said.
”We must face this reality if we are ever to move forward.”
What Timlin knew
Diocesan records show Timlin was aware of the Freeland incident by October 1986, and accepted Skotek’s resignation from St. Stanislaus, Hazleton, on Oct. 9, 1986.
Skotek was dispatched to St. Luke’s Institute in Suitland, Md., for an evaluation, and later reassigned to St. Aloysius in Wilkes-Barre.
In 1989, Timlin sent a letter to Rome and reported that “a priest in the diocese has been rendered irregular as a result of having assisted in the procurement of an abortion.”
“Conscious as I am of the severity of the crime he admits to, I nevertheless judge him worthy of consideration for a dispensation from this irregularity,” Timlin wrote.
“The priest in question undoubtedly acted out of fear and panic. He had impregnated the girl he assisted in procuring the abortion.”
Attorney Kevin E. Raphael responded to the allegations on Timlin’s behalf, according to a letter contained in the report.
“Bishop Emeritus Timlin sadly acknowledges that his and the Diocese’s efforts were imperfect. Bishop Emeritus Timlin acted with his best judgment, informed by his then-existing understanding of medical science’s ability to identify and treat offenders, and based (at times) on legal advice he received from Diocesan counsel,” he wrote.
“Over the course of his tenure, as he personally gained greater experience in handling allegations of child sexual abuse by priests, and as his personal understanding of, and the understanding of medical science about, child sexual offenders evolved, Bishop Emeritus Timlin’s handling of these allegations also evolved and continued to improve. Bishop Emeritus Timlin recognizes that some of his past decisions regarding offenders were imperfect, and in hindsight regrets that his past judgments at the time caused a single day of pain to any victims.”
“Bishop Emeritus Timlin offers his sincere apology to all victims of sexual abuse by priests of the Diocese of Scranton. He regrets the pain suffered by those victims and prays that they will find peace, healing and some measure of closure.”
As for Timlin’s role in the church, Bambera said he doesn’t have any events with the diocese coming up, but removing him from church events would be up to the pope.
“The protocol for addressing abuse has evolved over those years, and he served for over 20 years. The fact of the matter is, there are things he did that I would not have done, but we need to look at this rather carefully, and we will make a decision as we move forward.”
“Bishop Timlin is retired. He is 91 years of age. He does not have an official assignment. I acknowledge that in the past he has been supportive of the diocese in helping fulfill various functions around the diocese including confirmations. At this juncture, the bishop does not have any functions on his calendar for the foreseeable future and that is certainly an issue that we will have to look at more carefully.”
Reach Brigid Edmunds-Lawrence at 570-991-6113 or on Twitter @brigidedmunds