The Diocese of Scranton has grappled in public with priest sex abuse since at least 1991, when what arguably became its most notorious case spilled into the legal arena with the arrest of The Rev. Robert Caparelli.
It’s important because that means this problem has festered as an open wound for the 11-county diocese for 27 years (even longer as a hidden wound). It is not, as some might suspect, a new revelation unearthed through the two-year grand jury investigation that came to a head Tuesday with the long-anticipated release of a report on the findings.
This public problem expanded and evolved through three popes (John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis), and three diocesan bishops: James Timlin, Joseph Martino and Joseph Bambera.
It long predates the famous 2002 expose in the Boston Globe that focused the national limelight onto the problem of priest sex abuse, and it similarly predates the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People” adopted by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2002 — a document that itself has been revised three times since (2005, 2011 and 2018).
And the Times Leader has written scores, even hundreds of stories on the problem since that 1991 arrest. This paper broke the story in 2002 regarding accusations against priests at the now-banished Society of St. John. We unearthed previously unreported details of the Caparelli legal saga. And we reported on the shifting responses, both by the Church nationally and in the Diocese of Scranton.
There are two points here.
The first and most important: There is no statute of limitations on the pain and suffering the victims of such abuse endure. Their lives were altered forever, regardless of when the abuse occurred. Anyone who tells you Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s exhaustive report of priest sex abuse and the resulting cover-up is “old news” doesn’t get it. Shapiro launched a media conference by criticizing efforts to block release of the report as trying to “cover up the cover up.”
The second point: Those who shout as though every word of the report is new and vital information don’t get it. The report is extremely newsworthy — Shapiro declared it the most extensive and thorough report of its kind in the country, and that’s easy to believe. But it comes with historic context. If you followed the news in the last two decades, you remember priest names in this report: Phillip Altavilla, Peter Crynes, Albert Libertore, and Robert Timchak (once a Times Leader columnist) are just a few recorded in this paper’s archives.
The report is shocking and depressing, but it’s not just about the Catholic Church. The report will do the most good and benefit the most people once we get past the visceral responses and try to view it for what it is after so many years of this sad saga: Another reminder of how critical it is to protect our children from predators lurking in all walks of life and to help victims heal, another part of an ongoing effort to comprehend and correct the tragedy of covering such sins up, another chance for all religious leaders to adjust in rebuilding trust, another factor as all faithful evaluate their faith, and another call for legislators to rigorously revisit laws that still rob victims of justice if they wait too long.