Erie, Pa., Bishop Lawrence Persico Reacts To Grand Jury Report NPR's Audie Cornish speaks with Bishop Lawrence Persico of the diocese in Erie, Pa., about the grand jury report on how years sexual abuse were covered up throughout Catholic churches in the state.

Erie, Pa., Bishop Lawrence Persico Reacts To Grand Jury Report

Erie, Pa., Bishop Lawrence Persico Reacts To Grand Jury Report

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NPR's Audie Cornish speaks with Bishop Lawrence Persico of the diocese in Erie, Pa., about the grand jury report on how years sexual abuse were covered up throughout Catholic churches in the state.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The state of Pennsylvania and the Catholic Church are reeling from the revelations of a grand jury report on the abuse of more than a thousand children by more than 300 priests over 70 years. The details of the report are graphic, horrifying and difficult to listen to.

Here is how Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro described the findings at a press conference yesterday.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

JOSH SHAPIRO: It was child sexual abuse, including rape committed by grown men - priests against children.

CORNISH: Most current and past bishops from the Pennsylvania dioceses did not cooperate with the grand jury, a fact that Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro highlighted during a press conference. The bishop who did testify before the grand jury was Bishop Lawrence Persico. He oversees the Erie Diocese, and he joins us now. Welcome to the program.

LAWRENCE PERSICO: Thank you, Audie.

CORNISH: Were you surprised by the findings from the report that came out?

PERSICO: Yes. I considered it devastating and very difficult reading and upsetting because I know it will upset a lot of people. And it's just - it was a terrible, terrible tragedy.

CORNISH: After the clergy sex abuse scandal in Boston many years ago, why would you be surprised? I mean, isn't the sense right now that there are many years of abuse that were not reported within the Catholic Church, and that that's not uncommon?

PERSICO: Well, back in 2002, we thought we were moving in the right direction and that these things would be handled properly. However, as you said earlier, these are cases going back 70 years. And when you put them all together, for all six dioceses, you just begin to see how tragic this whole thing was, and also the fact that it could've been handled better.

CORNISH: Can the Catholic Church at this point be trusted to investigate claims of abuse on its own?

PERSICO: No. I don't think it should because that was one of the other pieces of our policy that we have independent investigators. Instead of having bishops or priests investigate these - I mean, they're not trained investigators. And I just think that causes more problems. Whereas when we have professional people who come in and investigate a case, they have served in the justice system, and they do a much better job than we are able to do.

CORNISH: You know, a couple of days before the release of the report, you wrote to your parishioners about what you expected to learn. And you said at the end of that letter - you reminded them that what happened is in the past, and that is not the future. Why did you want to say that?

PERSICO: Yes.

CORNISH: I mean, this stuff is only just coming out now. I don't think people are ready to put it behind them.

PERSICO: No, they're not. But the majority of the abuse cases are over a 70-year period. Even the most recent one we had was probably about 10 years ago. I think we have to look at this as a very tragic period. We also have to look at the process of healing and looking forward so that these folks who have been abused can have some certainty that they will not be ignored.

CORNISH: What's your response to Catholic parents who are reading this report, and they don't want to put their child anywhere near clergy alone?

PERSICO: First of all, let me say that, you know, I can understand their feelings because - who do you trust? Priests were always held to a high standard. And now, you know, is it safe for my child to be around this priest? That is something that we're going to have to earn again - that trust. It's going to take time.

CORNISH: Father Lawrence Persico is the bishop of Erie, Pa. Thank you so much for speaking with ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

PERSICO: Oh, you're welcome. Thank you.

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