Former Bishop James C. Timlin has been permanently restricted from representing the Diocese of Scranton at all public events, “liturgical or otherwise,” current Bishop Joseph Bambera announced Friday morning.
Bambera’s move comes in the wake of revelations contained in the recent statewide Grand Jury report on sex abuse by priests in six Pennsylvania dioceses, including Scranton.
It contained multiple reports of abuse that were reported to Timlin, who frequently did not take formal action against the accused priests, or simply moved them to other parishes. In one 1980s case, he appealed to Rome for clemency on behalf of a priest who impregnated a teenager and helped the girl obtain an abortion.
Timlin, 91, led the diocese from 1984 to 2003.
‘Timlin did not abuse’
“It is important that I make this very clear: Bishop Timlin did not abuse children, nor has he ever been accused of having done so. Instead, he mishandled some cases of abuse,” Bambera said.
A Times Leader analysis of the grand jury report found that Timlin had knowledge of more than two dozen cases before and during his tenure as bishop. Some were handed over to police, but in most instances the alleged abusers were sent for treatment, moved around or quietly removed from active ministry.
“He presided over the Diocese of Scranton for nearly 20 years — a time in which the diocese fell short of its duty to protect children. And, in many of the cases detailed in the grand jury report, Bishop Timlin fell short, too,” Bambera said, adding that he would refer Timlin’s case to Rome.
“This is the fullest extent that my authority permits me to act relative to another bishop. I have, though, also referred this matter to the Vatican Congregation for Bishops, which has jurisdiction over additional aspects of Bishop Timlin’s ministry,” Bambera added. “This was not a decision that was taken lightly.”
The elderly former bishop, who did not have any official role with the diocese prior to Friday, has not spoken publicly about the report since its release last month.
But attorney Kevin E. Raphael did respond 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, also describing how Timlin established procedures to handle clergy abuse cases.
Except, the grand jury found, Timlin frequently ignored his own policy to report suspected abusers to civil authorities.
Bambera: ‘I apologize’
In his letter Friday, Bambera explained why action against Timlin was only taken this week, despite revelations that have been known to diocesan officials for years.
Bambera was one of those who went to Timlin with concerns about potential abuse — concerns which, according to the report, Timlin failed to address.
“Some have asked why I did not restrict Bishop Timlin from publicly representing the Diocese of Scranton sooner, given the information that was shared in the grand jury report,” Bambera wrote.
“Frankly, when I became bishop in 2010, my concern at the time was not with Bishop Timlin, but on the need to keep predator priests out of ministry and to create environments in which our children would be safe,” Bambera added. “Bishop Timlin had no administrative role within the Diocese at the time, and had been out of office for seven years by the time of my appointment.”
Yet, the sobering report of the statewide Grand Jury has shown me that I could have done more in this regard immediately upon my appointment to bishop. It has also caused me to reflect on my own role in handling allegations of abuse in the Church, too,” Bambera wrote. “To those who feel I betrayed their trust in me by allowing Bishop Timlin to continue to minister publicly in the Diocese of Scranton since his retirement, I apologize.”
Bambera added that since he became bishop, “every single allegation of abuse has been reported to civil authorities and Pennsylvania Child Line.”
“Every credibly accused priest has been removed from ministry. And the public has been notified of every priest removed from ministry as a result of an allegation of abuse,” he said.
Wolf: Let them sue
According to the Associated Press, Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf came out Friday against a legislative proposal to compensate victims of child sexual molestation by priests through a church-established fund, saying that lawmakers instead should amend state law to let victims sue over abuse that happened decades ago.
Wolf said changes to the state’s statute of limitations and other proposals in the grand jury report “would deliver what victims deserve,” but a fund outside the court system would not.
The governor also called on the Legislature to pass reforms recommended by the grand jury, the AP reported.
That panel said the state should eliminate the criminal statute of limitations for child sexual abuse, give otherwise time-barred victims a two-year window to file lawsuits, clarify penalties for failing to properly report abuse and ban agreements that prohibit victims from cooperating with police.
Earlier this week, the top-ranking Republican in the state Senate, President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, floated the idea of a church-established victim fund, and some church officials have reacted positively.
On Friday, the AP reported, Scarnati’s top aide, Drew Crompton, said compensation funds have worked effectively in several states and argued a fund in Pennsylvania, administered by a third party, would compensate victims quickly. Crompton called the proposed two-year “window” for lawsuits “constitutionally questionable.”
GOP gubernatorial candidate Scott Wagner said he agreed with Wolf’s position on the fund proposal.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.