The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) remains critical of the Catholic Diocese of Harrisburg despite its release this month of the names of 72 priests accused of child sex abuse.
SNAP, which describes itself as a self-help group for victims of religious authority, believes Bishop Ronald Gainer released the names only to get ahead of the findings of a two-year grand jury investigation into abuse, ordered by the court this week to be released by Tuesday.
In an Aug. 1 statement, Gainer said upon becoming bishop at Harrisburg in 2014, he instructed staff to create a list of clerics and seminarians who stood accused of sexual abuse of children.
Joseph Aponick, diocese director of communications, said it’s typical for a bishop to know very little about where he’s being sent prior to placement, and he said that was the case with Gainer’s appointment to Harrisburg.
The diocese’s investigation began before Gainer knew a grand jury would be looking into the same topic, according to Mike Barley, spokesman for the Harrisburg diocese.
“One issue (Gainer had) was trying to resolve the status of all clergy and try to get our records in better shape, and we certainly have done that over the course of the last two years,” Barley said Friday.
Aponick explained, “He had many efforts to get himself acclimated, but as part of it he wanted to know what he had inherited in terms of abuse.”
The diocese said the state Supreme Court placed a stay and pending review order on the results of the diocese investigation in order to protect the grand jury probe. Gainer said the diocese report was issued after the court lifted its stay.
‘Looks like ... a good thing’
Judy Jones, SNAP midwest regional manager, maintains the diocese released the names only to get ahead of the grand jury report.
“What’s kind of disturbing, it looks like he’s doing such a good thing, putting the names out there,” she said. “I can’t wait until the (grand jury) report comes out.”
She believes Gainer could have made its list public two years ago as was done in 30 other dioceses nationwide.
Victims from within the six investigated dioceses in Pennsylvania have had a difficult time waiting for the release of the grand jury report, Jones said. It was first expected to be made public in June but was delayed and tangled up in court as some of the accused criticized a lack of due process and requested their names be redacted.
The delays are hard on the victims, who she noted had to relive traumatic memories while testifying before the grand jury.
“They’re waiting and waiting for the report to come out and it’s very hard for them having this delayed time and again,” she said. “It’s like the Catholic church is always winning.”
A female victim she’s spoken to has been “baking for three days” in an attempt to stay busy while waiting for the report.
As part of the diocese’s release of the names, Gainer announced he would remove from halls, rooms and buildings the names of the accused as well as any bishops dating back to 1947 “who in some cases failed to protect children.”
Jones believes Gainer “is trying to cover his own self” through those actions. She said it’s unusual for a bishop to speak out against his predecessors, stating “usually they stick up for each other.”
“I guess it will be clearer when the report comes out and we read what’s in it,” she said.
SNAP had been critical of Gainer during his time as Lexington bishop from 2002 until he was transferred to Harrisburg in 2014. Former SNAP director David Clohessy released a statement 10 days after Gainer had been appointed the bishop in Harrisburg in January 2014 stating Gainer “has done a very poor job protecting kids and healing victims in Lexington.”
Gainer was under scrutiny from Clohessy for not ousting the Rev. Carroll Howlin, who was put on administrative leave in 2002 after abuse reports were made against him. Further criticism was made against Gainer for “recklessly” placing the Rev. William G. Poole “back on the job” after being accused of molesting a child in 2003.
Barley said Friday there is “nothing to these allegations.” He said Gainer wasn’t bishop at the time Howlin was placed on administrative leave and learned of him later in his term when Howlin was no longer in the ministry, according to Barley.
After allegations of child molestation against Poole came out in 2003, Barley said Gainer immediately turned the information over to law enforcement and the diocese hired its own private investigator. According to Barley, both investigations came back with a conclusion that the allegations were false.
Jones remains skeptical.
“If there was a grand jury report into the Lexington Diocese, I wonder if his name would have to be pulled down off the walls?” she said about Gainer.
SNAP was founded in 1988 and grew quickly after the 2002 Spotlight report from the Boston Globe exposing sex abuse cases within the Catholic church.
Clohessy resigned from SNAP in 2017 after a former employee filed a lawsuit claiming victims were referred to certain attorneys in exchange for donations from the lawyers to the organization.