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Pittsburgh Bishop David Zubik Responds To PA's Landmark Grand Jury Report

Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA
Bishop David Zubik, who presides over the Diocese of Pittsburgh, outside the WESA studios on Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2018.

David Zubik was installed as the Roman Catholic Bishop of the Diocese of Pittsburgh in 2007 after years serving at the right hand of his predecessor, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, who now serves as the Archbishop of Washington D.C. And it was at that time that he was privy to years of conversations and internal investigations outlined in the grand jury report released this month that detailed decades of child sex abuse at the hands of Catholic clergy across Pennsylvania.

Many have criticized Zubik for not doing enough. Others have defended the bishop for doing the best he could. He has said he will not resign his post.

Zubik joined 90.5 WESA's Kevin Gavin to discuss the effects of the grand jury report that named him more than 100 times and singled out 99 "predator priests" in the Pittsburgh diocese alone.

Their discussion appeared in full on The Confluence, which also included a conversation about a new WESA podcast. The transcript below has been edited for length and clarity.

KEVIN GAVIN: It's The Confluence, where the news comes together on 90.5 WESA. I'm Kevin Gavin. It seems like nearly every day there's a new development, another ripple effect, resulting from the August 14th release of a grand jury report into the sexual abuse of children by Catholic clergy in six dioceses in Pennsylvania. We're going to talk about that with David Zubik, the bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh .Bishop Zubik, welcome to The Confluence.

BISHOP DAVID ZUBIK: Kevin, good to be with you and with all your listeners today. Thanks.

GAVIN: Thank you. Bishop, your name, as you know, was mentioned more than 100 times in the grand jury report, mostly from when you were director of Office of Clergy. Your boss at the time was then-Bishop Donald Wuerl now Cardinal Wuerl, head of the Archdiocese of Washington. People want to know: Do you accept any responsibility for what the grand jury alleges happened?

ZUBIK: Kevin, I think one of the things that's important from what we know that the grand jury had a half a million pages that they had examined because they were looking at the Diocese of Pittsburgh and five other dioceses. And there are some inaccuracies in the way the report was described. And so the court allowed us to be able to do a response that could, in fact, expand some of the information that was in the grand jury report. And that is attached. The court ordered that it had to be released the same time that the report was released, and I'm just hoping that people can, in fact, read the response because it helps explain some of the things that were in there.

You know, when I was in the clergy office, I was staff to then-Bishop Wuerl, and I know how deep was his passion about addressing the issue of clergy sexual abuse. That was one of the things that he first had to face when he became bishop of the diocese in 1988. And so going back, in terms of taking a look at my role as part of the staff, I know that if there were mistakes that were made -- I mean simply that mistakes could have been made -- or you look at things differently now than you did then, the intention was always to address the issue of sexual abuse because of the sake of the people who were the victims.

GAVIN: You were given the opportunity to address the grand jury. One of your colleagues, the bishop of Erie, did testify before the grand jury. Why did you decide not to testify?

ZUBIK: Kevin, thanks for the opportunity to clarify that. All six bishops received a letter from the grand jury, and I believe it was through the Attorney General's office. Around the end of February/beginning of March. And it said -- because we all expected we were all going to come before the grand jury in person -- and we got a letter and it said that it's important for you to be able to have some information to give to the grand jury. And then we were offered three options. No. 1, you could come and appear before the grand jury in person. No. 2, you could take the Fifth (Amendment) and not respond at all. Or No. 3, you could do a written response. And all six of us, including the bishop of Erie, as I understand it, we all chose to do option No. 3, which is to write to the grand jury to give us a sense of questions that were posed to us and being able to address those with the grand jury. And then my understanding was that I think that that the bishop of Erie was invited to come there personally. So I think it's important for people to know that I did, we all, responded to the grand jury, and we did it according to the options that were presented to us.

GAVIN: Would it, in retrospect, have looked like or appeared to be more like cooperation -- if you made an in person appearance, rather than, you know, a crafted statement in response, but rather appearing in person. Would that have not appeared as more cooperative?

ZUBIK: Well, I think, Kevin, you need to understand this wasn't just a crafted statement. This was like the size of a term paper. And I think that we chose that option, and I think all the other bishops chose it, because it gave us the opportunity to really be complete -- to make sure that the grand jury was able to see the wide scope, and especially for us in Pittsburgh, of all the things that we've been doing over the course of the years to reach out to victims and to establish good policies and procedures to try to eradicate sexual abuse of minors.

GAVIN: You were not the bishop of Pittsburgh at the time of the events described in the report, but did you try to stop the reassignment of priests to other parishes?

ZUBIK: One of the things that's important to recognize, Kevin, is that I think the bishops were the ones who made decisions then, as I have to make them now. As you take a look at the progression of how everybody was addressing sexual abuse and especially how the church was addressing it, if you go back 40-50-60 years you see that people were so horrified by it. They didn't know how to respond and that was on all levels, not just the church. But, you know, with psychiatrists, with lawyers, with, you know, police officers, with psychiatrists. But once we started to hit the 1980s, things began to come into place about how can we best respond to the needs of victims? And as you can see that one of the major factors that comes into play in the 1990s was the role of treatment centers. And so, you know, if a priest was sent to a treatment center, they would diagnose and then they would say, "Well, based on our evaluation that took place over the course of six months, we would say that this person is safe to go in ministry." And a bishop would follow that. I think it's important also to recognize that it was in the 1980s, and especially when Bishop Wuerl became the bishop of the Diocese, that was one of the first issues he had to face was a scandal between three priests and two brothers. And one of the first things he did was to call all the priests together and say, "If you know that there's anything going on, you need to come forward." And then, in addition to that, the bishop had established an independent review board that would evaluate these cases and make recommendations to the bishop.

Bishop Wuerl also established the position of a diocesan assistance coordinator who still is there to respond to the needs of the victims and help them. It was also during that time that we encouraged victims, if they were adults, to go and report the allegations to civil authorities. It was also the practice that if a person came as a minor, that we reported it.

So I think that the steps that were in place at that particular time were ones that the bishop best thought could address the issue. And then as we came along the way, the bishop no longer relied solely on the evaluations of treatment centers. So that's a long answer to say that I think that, that you know, I always supported the bishop in making decisions that were going to, in fact, address the issue in the best way that it could be handled at that time. Clearly the church of Pittsburgh today is not the same church as reported 30 or 40 years ago.

GAVIN: All right. I want to get to a couple follow ups -- the treatment centers. I mean there were people believe, once an abuser, always an abuser. It's not safe. Period. Keep them away from kids. Period. Why was there any belief that this person was "cured" or ready to be allowed near children again?

ZUBIK: Well, I think that was the reason why the bishops in those days relied on the specialists in those areas. And I think what has happened over the course of the years is that we've learned that, you know, in so many cases this isn't something that can in fact be healed, but it can in fact be contained. I think in those days, people thought well, you know, they could make a recommendation that said that the person can go back into ministry and bishops relied on the professionals who offered those kinds of recommendations.

GAVIN: Your name was on some letters that were a photocopied and included in the reportt to different dioceses. Basically saying, these aren't the exact words, that this priest who had been accused and undergone maybe some treatment was "in good standing." Do you regret signing those letters? Your name is on those letters.

ZUBIK: I think I have to be honest to say that the information that was there was information that indicated that he could have been in good standing. And I think in one particular case that you were making reference to when information came forward later on about that person, the Bishop Wuerl himself wrote to the bishop of another diocese and said, "When I wrote you back in 1991, I didn't have this information. I now do have it and I want to indicate, I would not have indicated that he could or should have been in ministry."

What happened as a result in that particular case is that the person was called in. He went for an evaluation and the evaluation came back and said, "Well we do not see him as a pedophile or an ephebophile and we wouldn't see any restrictions having to be placed on him." And based on that information, you know, I was directed to be able to write write a notation. But it was based on the information that we had. When we came to 2002, that person then was pulled from ministry, because we were beginning to understand the issue in a lot, in a different light.

GAVIN: All right. Now some people are wondering why the church isn't doing more to fight for justice for survivors like working with the attorney general, Josh Shapiro, to change the law and statute of limitations, which the grand jury report recommended.


"If they were that concerned about children and that upset about those children being raped within their walls they would be, they would be banging down the door of Josh Shapiro and asking, "How do we get this in effect?"
"You know, at the time, I don't think I realized, but you know, I was being groped. I was being touched in places where you know normally wouldn't allow that."
"Their stories are finally getting to be told, and in a sense, the grand jury believed the. Somebody believed them. And we're hoping that more people out there, now that it's out, will believe them."
"You know, I didn't know. I was hoping to get out of the homily an apology. Something. But I walked out the doors, and it was really emotional. I think I teared up, thinking, 'You know, this is going to be the last mass that I attend.'"
"I hope that those church officials who covered up are held accountable. Any bishops who covered up sex abuse needs to step down. They need to resign."

GAVIN: Bishop, your response?

ZUBIK: Well, listening to those comments, you know first and foremost, and I can't say this enough, I really am sorry for the ways in which the church has hurt people who are victims and we have to be able to respond to them. We have a long history of trying to respond to victims and still do, and looking for better ways. We've done a lot in terms of helping people to heal, especially from counseling. And I know that as we're looking forward, on the day that the report was released, in my news conference, I indicated some ways in which we want to build on that.

We want experts to take a look at our policies and procedures, see what do we need to do more. We want to hire a person who is going to be visiting with priests who have been pulled from ministry on a regular basis. And you know also, we released the names of the people who have been accused. I think those are ways in which we want to try to build on how we help victims.

I know that when the attorney general made his announcements, he challenged the bishops to do four things. You know, No. 1, that we would support the elimination of this statute of limitations for criminal offenses. No. 2, that the attorney general said it was important that there would be no confidentiality agreements, and that was something we haven't done since 2002, and we didn't honor the ones before that. No. 3, that if somebody knew something and didn't report it, there would be consequences to that. And then the fourth one has to do with civil statute of limitations. And right now, I think it's too early for me to respond to that, because I haven't seen exactly where that's going to go.

But what I can tell you, is that we continue to reach out to people who are victims to look for healing. And especially since the report was released, we've had a number of people who've called to look for some assistance. And we're giving that to them.

GAVIN: I have several more questions. We have just about three minutes left. A statute of limitations -- do you support efforts, legislative efforts, or even -- there's been a suit filed in Common Pleas Court -- to change the statute of limitations retroactively. Do you support that?

ZUBIK: There are two things, Kevin, I think that we have to see. In the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, I think it has been discussed maybe three years or so. The members of the Senate have said that's unconstitutional. So I think the issue of where that goes, I think, has to be worked out with the legislators. And as I said before, I think it's too premature to respond to the precision of the question. But what I do want to say is this: if there's going to be any kind of legislative move around the issue of statute of limitations, either criminal or civil, it has to apply all across the board, because if we're going to be serious about victims then that means that victims have to be considered seriously in every area of society.

GAVIN: All right. Very quickly, what do you say to the faithful who were hurt? They're angry, they aren't losing their faith in God, but maybe they're losing their faith in "the men of God."

ZUBIK: Well, the most important thing is, please don't turn your back on God. And I can say over the course of the last two weeks, we experienced an increase in people coming to church. And I think they were coming there, because they needed the strength of the Eucharist.

GAVIN: OK. At the time of your news conference, you indicated you would not resign. There are thousands of signatories to petitions urging change in leadership. Do you understand people's anger and call for your resignation and the resignation of other bishops? And what action will you take? One minute.

ZUBIK: OK. I think that I know. I can feel their anger, because I feel angry as well, too. I'm enraged with some of, you know, my brother priest did. The same collar that I'm wearing, they wore, and they used the priesthood to harm other people.

In answer to the question, Kevin, I just want to be honest to say I hope that people will take an honest look at my record since becoming bishop in 2007. I have done everything to try to respond to victims and to prevent any abuse in the future. And I want to continue to be a part of the healing process of all that. And I hope that people will go to the report, take a look at our response, take a look at what's on our listing of clergy who have been accused and see on there, not only know the names of the person and when they were ordained and when the accusation came in, but that it was turned over to civil authorities.

GAVIN: All right. Just 30 seconds, less than 30 seconds. What action must you take? People say they're tired of words. They want action.

ZUBIK: And I hope that they're able to see what we've done in the past and that we really are continuing that in the future and especially the ways in which we've tried to respond. One of my reasons for coming here today to be with you is to convince people we really are very intent on helping victims and want to always be that way.

GAVIN: David Zubik is the bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh. Bishop Zubik thank you so much for joining us.

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in weekdays at 9 a.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators join veteran journalist Kevin Gavin, taking an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here.

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