Pennsylvania Bishops Face Reckoning In The Wake Of Grand Jury Sex Abuse Report

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Joshua Gill Religion Reporter
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Roman Catholic bishops of the diocese in Scranton, Pennsylvania, are facing consequences for mishandling sexual abuse allegations in the wake of the state’s grand jury report.

Scranton Bishop Joseph Bambera and former Bishop James Timlin have been forced to atone for what the Pennsylvania grand jury report revealed to be their mishandling of a sexual misconduct case involving a man numbered among the 300 predator priests that the report identified. Though Bambera testified publicly about the case in 2007, he issued an apology to his diocese in August and barred Timlin from representing the Diocese of Scranton in public. (RELATED: Pennsylvania Prosecutes First Priest In Wake Of Sex Abuse Report)

The case involved a priest identified in court documents by the pseudonym “Father Ned,” who was revealed to be Rev. Robert Gibson. Bambera testified in 2007 that the diocese failed to report Gibson’s sexual abuse allegations to the authorities, that he was removed from ministry temporarily for treatment, and that once he was reassigned to another parish he was caught once again grooming a boy for abuse.

Bambera, at the time, served as diocesan vicar for clergy while Timlin served as bishop. Bambera claimed that decisions concerning how the church would address Gibson ultimately fell to Timlin and that the bishop had already decided to reassign Gibson to another parish by the time Bambera was instated as vicar.

Advocates for child victims of sexual abuse said that Bambera’s position was not an adequate excuse and noted the fact that he is one of several current bishops who either aided or simply looked on as their superiors reassigned or otherwise protected alleged predatory priests.

“He knew. He was part of the system,” Marci Hamilton, founder of CHILD USA and legal expert on child sexual abuse, said according to The Associated Press.

Hamilton called for state prosecutors to charge bishops and the subordinates who aided them in abuse cover-ups with child endangerment, citing the precedent of Philadelphia Monsignor William Lynn, who was the first Catholic cleric in the U.S. convicted in connection to a sexual misconduct case.

“They all did the same thing,” Hamilton said. “And what they did was put children in the pathway of pedophiles.”

Bambera said that the grand jury report “caused me to reflect on my own role in handling allegations of abuse in the church” and “to consider my role and past actions in protecting children.”

“Could I have done things better? Do I wish that there were things that were different in those days? Yeah, I do, I do,” he told AP. “I wish that law enforcement was engaged on a much much more regular basis than it had been.”

He clarified, however, that he was not in charge of Gibson’s fate.

“I worked for Bishop Timlin and the decisions were his to make, they weren’t mine,” he said.

Bambera claimed that he did, however, voice his disagreement with certain decisions in the interest of preventing further child sexual abuse.

“I clearly did raise my voice and my concern on many occasions about behavior and decisions that I didn’t agree with,” he said.

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