PITTSTON – Former Luzerne County judge Joe Musto issued many rulings during his career, but when it comes to the recent scandal regarding Catholic clergy, he is reluctant to judge.
And, he is adamant that details of abuse alleged in the grand jury report released Tuesday will not shake his faith in God or the church.
“I believe priests are human, and we all have to keep them in our prayers,” he said as he made his way out of St. John the Evangelist Church following Sunday Mass. “We are a people that believe in forgiveness.”
Musto’s wife, Fortunata Musto, shares her husband’s deep faith, but she’s angry that the Catholic Church would allow children to be abused, while defending priests charged to protect them.
“I think that it should start with seminarians, with a screening process that would detect any of them were becoming priests for the wrong reason,” she said.
She believes that the alleged actions of the priests were indefensible, but she also believes that the actions of other bishops and priests who were charged with overseeing them were equally inexcusable.
“It’s unconscionable that they were simply reassigned,” she said, “putting many more children in danger.”
“As the bishop said in his statement,” said Joe Musto, “his heart is broken.”
Musto said that the Church has historically been perceived as judgmental, with many Catholics angry because it seems that priests were not subject to the requirements the Church itself set.
“I think the current pope is working to embrace all Catholics,” he said, “to provide a more understanding environment.”
Lifelong Catholic Ree Ree DeLuca, of West Pittston, didn’t attend church on Sunday because, she said, she is still processing the grand jury’s findings and its impact on her faith.
“My faith in God is very strong,” she said. “But my faith in the church is shaken.”
DeLuca, who graduated from Bishop O’Reilly High School in the mid-80s, said she was not surprised by the grand jury’s findings.
She said she vividly remembers be instructed to stay away from one priest by an adult.
“I was told to not be in the same room with him,” she said. “If he was in the cafeteria, I left the cafeteria.”
Part of the problem, she said, is that there are no women in the Catholic hierarchy.
“Women in leadership wouldn’t stand for this,” she said.
DeLuca said she has not yet decided whether she will again attend Sunday Mass, but one thing she has decided against is giving money in the offering plate.
“I’m thinking about just putting coupons in the offering,” she said. “If they need things, baby wipes, detergent, they can use coupons.”
One of the benefits of the grand jury’s decision, she said, is that more people are feeling free to come forward and begin healing.
“After (Attorney General Josh) Shapiro’s press conference, they got a multitude of additional calls,” she said. “We should be asking ourselves, ‘What can we do to help victims heal?’”
As for former Bishop James Timlin, alleged to have actively covered up sexual abuse of children by priests, DeLuca said, it’s a time for justice and not mercy.
“I think he should be defrocked,” she said. “He can stay at the nursing home or whatever, but not at the cost to the dioceses and its people.”
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