SCRANTON — One week since the release of the grand jury report on child sex abuse in six of Pennsylvania’s eight Catholic dioceses, Bishop Joseph Bambera of the Diocese of Scranton put the situation in clear perspective.
“Our policy is this — no child abused; no abuser protected,” Bambera said during a one-hour interview in his office in the Diocese Chancery Building on Tuesday afternoon.
On Aug. 14, Attorney General Josh Shapiro released the 884-page grand jury report filled with revelations of sexual abuse and cover-ups in Pennsylvania Catholic churches going back decades.
Bambera, who became Bishop of Scranton in 2010, has had a “zero-tolerance” policy in all cases — “One strike and you’re out,” Bambera said. He said 93 percent of the cases in the grand jury report occurred before the year 2000 and many of the guilty parties are deceased. He said none of those named in the report are currently practicing in the diocese. In fact, Bambera said he has removed four or five priests from the ministry since he became bishop.
When Bambera assumed his office, he said he reviewed all files twice and every priest with “credible allegations against him” was removed from the ministry.
“This happened long before the grand jury report came out,” Bambera said. “I prepared my own list and distributed those named to all the district attorneys in the 11 counties in our diocese.”
Bambera said the diocese does not conduct investigations — he said he turns over all the information gathered to the appropriate district attorney.
Bishop Emeritus James C. Timlin was named in the report for covering up several cases. He currently is not allowed to represent the diocese in any official matter. Bambera noted Timlin has not been accused of engaging in any acts of child abuse, but his decisions in several cases have caused great concern.
Bambera noted that local colleges/universities have already announced the removal of the names of past bishops from campus buildings, Timlin among them. He said the diocese has a five-member Independent Review Board — three lay people, one nun and one priest — that is reviewing Timlin’s status and will make recommendations.
“The concern is regarding his decisions,” Bambera said of Timlin. “And these are very serious concerns.”
Bambera said the Independent Review Board is holding meetings to determine what role, if any, Timlin will have going forward.
“Right now, we have withdrawn his authorization to represent the diocese,” Bambera said.
‘Worst thing in 150 years’
Bambera said he and the diocese have been anticipating the grand jury report for nearly two years, having been made aware of it in September 2016.
“That said, I don’t think anyone in the diocese expected the report to be as unsettling and as serious as it is,” said the bishop. “This is the worst thing to happen to this diocese in its 150 years.”
Bambera expressed deep concern for the victims who must relive their experiences again.
“And their families must relive it as well,” said Bambera. “They have to listen to and read this report.”
He also offered concern for the faithful — the people who come to church every week and who eke out a living one week at a time.
“And I think about all of our good priests and deacons,” Bambera said. “People look at them now and see them as guilty just by association.”
Bambera said so much has been put out in the public that it will last with the church forever.
“But we will get beyond it all,” he said. “But we will be forever changed by this. The people must look at me and our leaders for something to give them a reason to trust again. We must show them all the good we have done and will continue to do.”
Bambera said the priority is to protect the children. He said some 28,000 people — employees and volunteers — have been trained to recognize the signs of abuse.
“We must all live with integrity,” Bambera said. “Or the people will never trust anything we say. We have no credibility at this point. We must restore trust. But I assure you that all the policies we have put in place have been put there to protect our kids and they are working.”
‘We can always do more’
Bambera related a story of an event he attended shortly before the release of the grand jury report. He said several seminarians were in attendance. Bambera said he mentioned that he was feeling anxiety over the release of the report and what it could mean to the church and its ability to recruit new priests.
“One of the seminarians told me that if the report comes out, to call the media and have them come to hear what we have to say,” Bambera said. “He told me that he and the others would tell the media that this is why the church needs us now.”
Bambera said there was always more that could have been done over the years.
“I can say with confidence that I am at peace with myself,” he said. “We have done everything possible to see this never happens again. We have done everything possible to protect our children, to deal with the offenders and to move forward the best we can.
“But yes, we can always do more.”
Bambera said the grand jury report details many cases where members of the clergy did not behave properly.
“They sucked the life out of so many children,” said the bishop. “We have to live with integrity. We have to keep our kids safe.”
Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.