Thursday, October 27, 2005
Bucks County parishioners blast priest for abuse cover-up
Bucks County, Penn. - A Bucks County Catholic priest identified in a grand jury report as helping to cover up sexual abuse by priests in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia faced angry parishioners at an unusual meeting Wednesday and asked for their forgiveness.
''I want you to know how sorry I am that this awful tragedy of sexual abuse occurred, and I am sincerely sorry for anything that I have done or didn't do that might have contributed to this situation,'' Monsignor Samuel E. Shoemaker told more than 400 people packed into St. Ignatius of Antioch Church in Yardley.
But for many at the meeting he had called, that wasn't good enough. One man held a sign saying
''Prison=justice'' in front of Shoemaker, who is mentioned at least 55 times in the scathing Philadelphia grand jury report released last month.
''I have a very direct question for the monsignor: Does it take an investigation by the state of Pennsylvania to know that you may or may not have committed a sin?'' said another man, lifetime parishioner Craig Mordock, 34, of Newtown.
A man who said he has been a parishioner for 20 years said he could forgive Shoemaker ''because I am a good Catholic. But I can't forgive the priests who stole our church. …They have to be held accountable, and we have to stand up publicly and say: 'You must go.''' Applause lasting 30 seconds followed his remarks.
A woman struggling to hold back tears told Shoemaker, ''If you can't stand up against these actions as a leader, then I can't have you as our leader.'' A man said, ''You ignore the fact that these guys were criminals. They committed a crime.'' Shoemaker, who said little during the meeting, answered by saying only, ''Correct, they did.''
When asked why priests accused of sexual abuse of minors were allowed to stay in the ministry after psychiatric evaluations, the monsignor said, ''In the 1960s, psychologists did not know that attraction to children or teenagers is an addiction that cannot be cured.'' But he said that did not excuse the archdiocese's failure to act properly.
Shoemaker, who has been in the ministry for 40 years and is not accused of abusing children, ducked questions about accusations against him in the 418-page grand jury report. Since the report was released to the public on Sept. 21, he has received letters from angry parishioners, including some who called on him to resign.
One of them was parishioner Ray Sizer of Yardley, who said outside the meeting, ''I haven't seen anyone answer to anything over the years. I'd like to see [Shoemaker] defrocked and sent on his way.''
David Kelly, 41, of Yardley said, ''In my anger, I wrote a letter to the monsignor and said I don't want to be a part of this parish anymore.''
Earlier, Shoemaker vowed to continue serving the parish and admitted the archdiocese's policies had been faulty.
''I look at myself as a person who tried his best to obey the diocese policies that were effective at the time, and regretfully they were inadequate,'' he told reporters outside the church.
Minutes later, in a prepared statement he read to the members of the 2,800-family parish where he has been pastor for nearly 17 years, Shoemaker said, ''Many of you are offended by the actions taken or not taken by those in authority, and, as a result, we are experiencing great hurt and pain. I pray for renewed forgiveness for errors in judgment that were made in the handling of these matters.''
Archdiocese spokeswoman Donna Farrel said Cardinal Justin Rigali is encouraging parishes in its five-county region, which includes Bucks and Montgomery counties, to hold similar meetings.
''I think they are happening all over the area,'' said Farrel, emphasizing the St. Ignatius meeting was Shoemaker's initiative.
After the monsignor invited reporters to attend, a group of lay people in the congregation who deal with church issues voted Tuesday night to bar them from entering the church. But the Pastoral Council reversed its decision Wednesday and allowed reporters into meeting in the parish auditorium moments before it started.
Shoemaker, who served as chancellor under former Cardinals Anthony Bevilacqua and John Krol for a little more than four years between 1984 and 1989, came to St. Ignatius in February 1989.
He spent two days testifying before the grand jury in December 2003 about his tenure as chancellor. Among other duties, the chancellor serves as head of personnel issues for the archdiocese.
The report portrays Shoemaker as one of several foot soldiers who assisted Bevilacqua and his predecessor, Krol, in covering up abuse of minors by priests.
Krol and Bevilacqua are accused in the report of keeping 63 known abusers in the ministry — including 12 who served in the Lehigh Valley region at some time — and transferring some to other parishes.
The grand jury said Shoemaker played a role in covering up the deeds of at least eight of 28 priests whose acts of sexual perversion are detailed in the report.
Among those, Shoemaker is accused in 1984 of naming a known sexual predator, the Rev. David Sicoli, as the associate director of the archdiocese's Confraternity of Christian Doctrine program for the Philadelphia area.
The report also says that, in 1986, Shoemaker pressured a therapist at St. John Vianney Center to make an ''accommodation'' in the hospital's initial recommendation that the Rev. Peter Dunne be removed from parish ministry and supervised 24 hours a day.
The therapist at the church-run treatment facility in Downingtown, Chester County, ''accommodated'' by reversing himself on the recommendation, the report says.
Shoemaker's name surfaces in the case of the Rev. James Brzyski, a priest at St. Cecilia Church in Philadelphia's Fox Chase neighborhood who is described in the report as one of the archdiocese's ''most brutal abusers — emotionally as well as physically.''
During seven years spent in two Philadelphia parishes, Brzyski ''sexually abused a hundred young victims,'' including a 12-year-old boy who for 20 years thought his mother gave the priest permission to sodomize him.
Another priest, the Rev. James Gigliotti, consulted Vice Chancellor Donald Walker about Brzyski's alleged abuse of a boy named Matthew, the report says. Gigliotti was told to share his knowledge of the boy's abuse with Matthew and his family.
When Walker spoke with Shoemaker, the report says, ''it was decided'' that Gigliotti would not reveal what he knew about Brzyski.
The report goes on to say Shoemaker was ''well acquainted with [Brzyski's] history and the archdiocese policy of trying to avoid knowing about the priest's victim's.'' As a result of this policy, the report says, many of Brzyski's victims ''went undiscovered, or at least unrecorded.''
As Shoemaker's meeting with his St. Ignatius parishioners ended, a man called out, ''Where do we go from here?'' No one answered.
See also, the never-ending chronicle of church-related crime.
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