The Pennsylvania Supreme Court released a grand jury report detailing decades of child sexual abuse Tuesday, revealing that the former Bishop of Scranton covered for a priest who allegedly raped a 17-year-old girl and then forced her to have an abortion.
The report, which spans 70 years of sexual misconduct and coverups by Catholic priests and officials, indicates that Bishop James C. Timlin covered for Rev. Thomas D. Skotek, who allegedly sexually assaulted a girl while serving as a pastor in Luzerne County between January 1980 and March 1985. After the girl became pregnant, the priest helped the girl have an abortion to cover up his abuse, the report states.
The grand jury report identified more than 1,000 child victims of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy, and more than 300 accused “predator priests” across six dioceses in the state.
“This is a very difficult time in your life and I realize how upset you are. I too share your grief,” Timlin wrote in a letter to the priest, according to the report.
“The bishop didn’t write that letter to the girl,” State Attorney General Josh Shapiro said at a Tuesday press conference in Harrisburg. “The bishop wrote that letter to the priest.”
Timlin found out about the alleged incident in October 1986, according to Diocesan records, but did not send a letter to Rome until 1989, reporting that “a priest in the diocese has been rendered irregular as a result of having assisted in the procurement of an abortion.” The letter stated that despite Skotek’s crime, he is “worthy of consideration for a dispensation from this irregularity … the priest in question undoubtedly acted out of fear and panic.”
Skotek continued serving in the ministry until 2002.
“Bishop Emeritus Timlin sadly acknowledges that his and the Diocese’s efforts were imperfect,” reads a letter from the grand jury’s report. “Bishop Emeritus Timlin acted with his best judgment,” the letter continues, defending Timlin’s inaction.
Timlin served as the Bishop of Scranton from 1984 to 2003. Barring Timlin from church events is up to the pope, according to the Times Leader. Timlin is 91 years old and has had no official role in the church following his retirement.
Skotek has not and cannot be charged with a criminal misdemeanor. Pennsylvania’s statute of limitations mandates that the period of limitations regarding a sexual offense committed against a minor starts when the minor reaches age 18 and expires after 12 years.
“I apologize this afternoon. I apologize to victims,” Scranton’s current Bishop Joseph Bambera said at the Harrisburg press conference. “No words that I share will ever be able to take away the pain that you have and continue to experience in your lives, nor can I fully understand what you have and continue to go through,” he continued. He also apologized to the families of the victims and the community at large.
Authorities suspect there are more victims who have not yet been identified. Tuesday’s report took two years to compile.
“As I have made clear throughout my more than 30 years as a bishop, the sexual abuse of children by some members of the Catholic Church is a terrible tragedy, and the Church can never express enough our deep sorrow and contrition for the abuse, and for the failure to respond promptly and completely,” Cardinal Donald Wuerl said in a statement Tuesday, defending his actions as the former bishop of Pittsburgh, a post he held from 1988 to 2006.
Wuerl is the current archbishop of Washington, D.C.
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