Two U.S. Catholic bishops named by grand jury in a Pennsylvania sex abuse report have apologized to victims but also defended their own actions.
Harrisburg Bishop Ronald Gainer spoke at a Mass of forgiveness in Harrisburg Friday, saying, “In the name of our global church, I voice again my heartfelt sorrow and sincere apology to all survivors of clergy sexual abuse.”
Gainer said most of the abuse happened long ago and said the church has since then taken “significant and effective measures to protect our children and remove any person who intends to do harm to them.”
The grand jury report criticized Gainer for not removing an abusive priest. The 900-page report, released Tuesday, said more than 300 predator priests had abused more than 1,000 children in six Pennsylvania dioceses over the span of 70 years.
In Indiana, Catholic Bishop Kevin Rhoades, who was a bishop in Harrisburg from 2004-2009, told a news conference that he offers his sympathies to the victims and their families. “The church failed you, and for this I apologize.”
He said he notified law enforcement when he heard about allegations of sex abuse in the Harrisburg diocese.
“The grand jury report mentions two cases of abuse that I was presented with during my time as bishop of Harrisburg. In each of these instances, upon learning of the allegations, I notified law enforcement and punished each individual,” Rhoades said.
Late Thursday, the Vatican broke its silence about the Pennsylvania grand jury report, calling the sex abuse described in the report as “criminal and morally reprehensible.”
A statement by the director of the Vatican’s communications office, Greg Burke, said the Vatican expressed “shame and sorrow” at the revelations.
“The acts were betrayals of trust that robbed survivors of their dignity and their faith. The church must learn hard lessons from its past, and there should be accountability for both abusers and those who permitted abuse to occur,” Burke said.
The church has been facing accusations of sexual abuse by the clergy in many countries. Just recently five bishops resigned in Chile in a sexual abuse scandal there. And next weekend Pope Francis will be travelling to Ireland, which is also no stranger to sex abuse by priests.
“Victims should know that the pope is on their side. Those who have suffered are his priority, and the church wants to listen to them to root out this tragic horror that destroys the lives of the innocent,” Burke said.