Almade and Zubik

In this October 2015 picture, Pittsburgh Bishop David A. Zubik greets a St. Vitus School student as the Rev. Frank Almade looks on.

Prior to the release of the 884-page grand jury report on child sexual abuse in six Pennsylvania Roman Catholic dioceses, the Rev. Frank Almade issued a statement to prepare the community for what they would hear.

He concluded the report, filled with words like "terrible," "disgusting" and "horrific" to describe details would be difficult to digest.

"It is even worse than we were led to believe," Almade said Tuesday.

Almade, who is pastor of St. Vitus, St Vincent de Paul, St. Joseph the Worker and Mary, Mother of Hope parishes in New Castle — on the eve of the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a Holy Day in the church calendar — is having a hard time wrapping is head around what he is reading.

"The first thing I would say to anyone is 'These are the facts and we can't run away from history.'"

Saying he had read only a small part of the report when contacted yesterday, Almade said he knew some of the men named as priest predators.

"One was a classmate," he said. "One, I was assigned to serve with when I first got out of the seminary. Others I've met over the years."

Of the 99 Diocese of Pittsburgh clergy named, Almade said he "knew or had some contact with" about two-thirds of them.

"Seeing a couple of the names comes as a great surprise," he said.

Like others, he's trying to make sense of the information that covers a span of more than 70 years.

"You can't run away from what happened," he said, adding that he had not expected "such comprehensive or graphic detail. But as Bishop (David) Zubik said in his letter read earlier this month, 90 percent of all reported incidents of abuse in our diocese occurred before 1990."

CHANGES

Almade said much has changed in the church in the past 15 to 18 years.

"This sounds like a defense or excuse but it is a fact. Clergy and those who work for the church even as staff and volunteers have changed. Law enforcement too has changed."

He noted that the grand jury report documents that several of the victims had gone to law enforcement officers to report what a priest had done to them. But the police officers refused to hear them and refused to investigate.

"But generally, that was more than 20 years ago," he said, adding, "I don't accuse any law enforcement or member of the judiciary of anything. Times were different then."

He also said the report "Requires us to keep the victims before us. My heart goes out to the victims. Sexuality is an important but difficult reality in our lives. To abuse children, young people, teenagers, to hurt them, to pervert their reality is not acceptable on any level."

Almade said he does not anticipate preaching on the grand jury report.

Prior to the release of the report, Zubik issued a letter to be read at the Aug. 4-5 Masses. The letter is published in the Pittsburgh Catholic newspaper and in his Aug. 12 church bulletin.

The letter anticipates "a sad and tragic description of events that occurred within the Church" which could test the faith of parishioners but urges, "stay close to God in prayer. The tragedy of child sexual abuse affects us all."

In a statement issued yesterday, Zubik apologized repeatedly "in the name of the Church of Pittsburgh, in my own name and in the name of my predecessors. We are sorry. I am sorry."

He sad the report, "a story of people's lives ... is a cause to which we must remain committed long after this story has faded from the headlines."

"My words to the congregation if questioned will be 'Talk to us. We will be happy to listen,'" Almade said. "Much has changed in the church. We urge victims come forward, no matter how much time has passed since the abuse occurred."

The simplest change, Almade notes, is that phone numbers are provided to victims on the Diocese website — diopitt.org — which urges victims to call 911 if danger is imminent; to call the Childline (800) 932-0313 to report child abuse and (888) 808-1235 to report child-related abuse to the Diocese of Pittsburgh. "That line is answered by compassionate people," he said.

As for the victims, "We wish them well we wish to talk to you. The attitude of the church is different."

Asked if the report might cause some to lose faith and stop coming to church, Almade noted the reduction of church attendance over past years.

"No one needs another reason not to come to church," he said.

"It's a cliche, but the church is not about priests or me, it is about our faith in God. Unfortunately, the church is full of sinners on both sides of the altar.

"I offer no excuse for the sinful behavior, the abuse of power by priests. I will point out that we begin every Mass with a prayer asking forgiveness of our sins — that includes individual, personal and institutional sin. God is merciful and we pray that we can be merciful if people hurt us."

MOVING FORWARD

Almade said the church continues to evolve and that includes in its preparation of men entering the clergy.

Nothing that he was ordained a priest in 1978, Almade said in his four years of seminary, he met with a psychologist only once, which was routine in seminaries at that time. All of this has changed.

"We had very little instruction on carrying out the values of chastity and celibacy," he said. "That was expected, but not addressed. Today, candidates for the priesthood are scrutinized.

"Over the years there has been more attention to the human condition and to dealings with men." Almade said.

"In my day, by and large, women were considered functional, second-class citizens. We spoke of attitudes toward women and if we could treat them as first class, as equals.

Since 2002, he said policy changes require FBI and state police investigations of priests, deacons, bishops, staff, even volunteers.

"We are alerted to classic sex abuse proclivity and how to spot it in others. We all sign a code of conduct and renew it every five years. This is an on-going thing."

Since 2002, he said, the Conference of Bishops also instituted a one-strike-and-you're-out policy. If one credible accusation is made, the individual is removed from the ministry. Not just transferred but removed completely, he said.

Also, the bishops commissioned John Jay University in New York City to do a survey and historical analysis of the church from 1950 to 2000. He said 95 percent of all dioceses participated. Findings, published in 2004, indicated that between 2.6 percent and 4.1 percent of clergy exhibited deviant behavior.

"Findings also were that the rate of incidents peaked in the late 1960s and early 1970s began tapering off in the 1980s and that there were few incidents reported in the 1990 and fewer yet since the turn of the 21st Century.

"This is because we have learned from our mistakes. We take victims' accusations seriously. Unsuitable priests are removed from the ministry and removed from seminaries before ordination."

Almade said if he has an objection to the grand jury's report, it is that it was not put into historical context.

"It is not to put down victims or not to accept the reality that has been the church," he said. "But 2018 separates us from times of 20 and 30 years ago."

nlowry@ncnewsonline.com

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