The Grand Jury Report on Sexual Abuse in Pennsylvania Catholic Dioceses: First Thoughts

On Tuesday, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s office released a redacted version of the Grand Jury Report on a two-year investigation into six Roman Catholic Dioceses in Pennsylvania investigating wide-spread sexual abuse of children and the institutional cover-up by the dioceses and the Vatican.

I’ve discussed my history with Catholicism many times on this blog, including the proximity of at least one predator priest in my home parish. I discovered that man, John Wellinger, is also part of my (very) extended family. I was familiar with stories of others, some my friends and some not known to me. I have been dealing with the realities of sexual predators in my family of origin. I thought I was somewhat prepared to read the report.

I was not prepared.

The report identifies 300 predator priests from 6 diocese, 90 of whom were part of the Diocese of Pittsburgh. That’s almost a third in our region.

The report references 1,000 victims of childhood sexual abuse. We can safely assume the real number is much higher and will never be known.

The report repeatedly describes how the Church prioritized avoiding scandal over everything else. They lied, moved priests around, hired investigators to investigate the accusers, paid-off the priests to keep their silence, and so much more.

None of this is truly shocking, to me at least. And right now I don’t believe for a second that the Church will actively support the reforms suggested by the Grand Jury or that we will see men in leadership roles relinquish their power to allow for genuine change.

I also don’t believe the faithful Catholics will support those changes because the financial costs are such that schools will be closed, buildings sold, and the actual Catholic culture will be transformed. I don’t think the powerful secular men aligned with Central Catholic High School will ever allow that to happen, no matter how outraged they are. I don’t think the people who cling to Catholic schools will allow that to happen.

Getting back to the report, I was appalled to learn that the priest in my parish before John Wellinger was named and that details were so sketchy. His name was Joseph A Mueller. He was ordained in 1983 and by 1987, the Diocese deemed him unable to work with youth and unassignable. He remained a priest until 2003.

What’s worse is that his twin brother, Richard J Mueller, was also a priest and also listed. He was not in the Grand Jury Report, but listed on the Pittsburgh Diocesan site as someone who had credible and substantiated allegations against them.

So one twin entered the priesthood in the 60’s after high school, the other followed 20 years later in his mid-40’s and both turn out to be serious predators? Twin priest predators? Did Richard recruit Joseph to the priestly life to feed his predilection? That’s a sickening twist to an already sordid story.

I had forgotten about Father Joe until the report came out. Now I am more sad to realize that my home parish was staffed by predators from 1983 until 1991. The priest who came to save us from the pedophiles, Daniel Valentine, was at Holy Spirit from 1991 until 2006. He resigned from ministry in 2012 after District Attorney Stephen Zappala’s office discovered ‘inappropriate’ content on his computer, including an invitation to a minor child to drink alcohol and unspecified pornography. Valentine is not listed in the Grand Jury Report or on the Diocesan list.

Still, from 1983 to 2006, Holy Spirit Parish was staffed by predators. Allegations abound of horrible misdeeds taking place in our rectory which often housed priests from other parishes or ministries.

My parents moved into the neighborhood adjacent to the parish in 1972 because of the relatively new church. They hoped we’d be able to attend Catholic School there which never happened. But the neighborhood revolved around this church and the nearby Lebanon Presbyterian Church. They were absolutely community hubs. I learned to drive in the church parking lot. I spent hundreds of solitary hours shooting hoops right in front of the rectory. We played all sorts of childhood games on the church grounds. Our two school bus stops were at either end of the parish parking lot entrances.  We road our bikes in the church lot and roller skated and generally hung out because it was safer than the roads living our neighborhood.

There’s so much more to be said and to deal with, more than one blog post can do. Last night, I was alternating between tears and irritability like a ping-pong ball. I kept yelling at Ledcat that she could not possibly understand because she wasn’t raised Catholic. I don’t think there is any comfort to be found right now. I’m not sure I want to be comforted because I’m still focused on watching how other respond. That’s known as ‘hypervigilance’ which is a symptom of PTSD.

More to come, but enough for today …

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has a lot of coverage, including summaries of the recommendations and a timeline of the investigation.

If you need support, there are options available

SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests) is available online and by telephone.

Center for Victims in Pittsburgh