“I express profound sorrow, and I apologize to the survivors of sexual abuse, to the Catholic faithful and to the general public for the abuses that took place and for those church officials who failed to protect children,” said the bishop, Ronald Gainer of Harrisburg.
Anticipating the release of a state grand jury report exposing decades of mishandled cases of child sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church in Pennsylvania, the bishop of Harrisburg on Wednesday ordered the removal of the names of former bishops dating to the 1940s from church buildings, schools and halls.
This was the first time a bishop had conducted such a sweeping purge of his predecessors’ symbolic legacies, although the names of individual bishops and priests involved in the scandal have previously been excised from church buildings.
“I express profound sorrow, and I apologize to the survivors of sexual abuse, to the Catholic faithful and to the general public for the abuses that took place and for those church officials who failed to protect children,” the bishop, Ronald Gainer of Harrisburg, said in a news conference.
The move comes as Catholics in the United States have been reeling from a new wave of accusations that have brought down a U.S. cardinal and revealed possible cover-ups. Church officials knew for years about allegations that the former cardinal, Theodore McCarrick, had sexually molested young men training to be priests in New Jersey, according to news reports, but failed to take action.
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In Pennsylvania, Catholic leaders have been bracing for the scheduled release in August of a grand jury report examining the scope of child sexual abuse in the state. Josh Shapiro, the Pennsylvania attorney general, has said that the report would look at accusations against more than 300 priests in six dioceses, dating back seven decades.
Gainer announced steps Wednesday to address the failures. He waived the confidentiality agreements of abuse victims who had received settlements from the diocese. He released the names of 71 priests, deacons and seminarians who have been credibly accused of abuse in Harrisburg since 1947. And he said the diocese had posted new guidelines to prevent child sexual abuse.
Gainer did not say whether all of his predecessors had been negligent in handling abuse. Among the former Harrisburg bishops are Kevin Rhoades, who is serving as the bishop of Fort Wayne-South Bend in Indiana. Another is Cardinal William Keeler, who as archbishop of Baltimore was the first U.S. bishop to volunteer to post the names of priests accused of abuse in his archdiocese. Keeler died in 2017.