Edward Gannon, SJ (one of the good guys)

I attended the University of Scranton for my undergraduate studies. This was probably an odd choice given my circumstance as it is a Catholic, Jesuit University. I chose it for a few reasons, some of which were more personal than academic. The school was located about an hour’s drive from my family home in the Poconos. If it were necessary, I would be able to get home quickly if the need arose. I had promised myself that I would not be too far away if my younger sisters or brother needed back-up in a house that was sometimes unpredictable and volatile.The school also had (and still has) a tremendous academic reputation. I was interested in the pre-law track, and I was accepted based on a solid B+ high school average.

I was instantly comfortable on the campus. I was happy to be back in an urban environment and enjoyed my ability to get anywhere I needed to go either by walking or using public transportation. If I needed to get home, I could catch a Trailways bus from downtown and be home in a couple of hours. During my freshman year, I did have to dodge cars barreling down Linden Street between St. Thomas Hall and the Gunster Memorial Student Center. For those familiar with the current campus of the U, my class was the last to enter “The U” before the “Z” bricks were laid on Linden Street and traffic diverted onto Mulberry.

It was during my freshman year that I met a Jesuit named Edward Gannon. He was a little annoying at first. He would walk into the cafeteria during breakfast and lunch and invite himself to sit at any table that piqued his curiosity. Given my aversion to those wearing Roman collars, I did not welcome the intrusions. He was notorious for asking some deep philosophical question at the breakfast table. Since I was barely able to cope with runny eggs, I let my table mates deal with the crazy Jesuit. The discussions sometimes seemed to come out of left field. He would ask questions about classes, relationships, religion, the world and the universe. I was very much on my guard around him initially.

Father Gannon was a campus legend. He was much bigger than his diminutive frame, and he had a commanding, reassuring presence where ever he went. Outside or in his office, he  usually had a cloud around him from the ever-present cigarette in his hand. This was the only vice he allowed himself. When not in his roman collar he was usually in a turtleneck and a cardigan. He was like a weird hybrid of Albert Einstein and Mr. Rogers. To say that he was intelligent would be a gross understatement. Father Gannon was granted the title of University Professor which meant he could teach in any department in the University. His classes were impossible to schedule because upperclassmen would take every available space. Given what I just said, you should not assume that class with Gannon was an easy A. You had to work to meet his incredibly high standards. He was not willing to accept anything less than what he thought you were capable of giving. He was not just teaching us philosophy or theology, he was teaching us to think, to question, to challenge. If we learned philosophy or theology along the way, so much the better. After the movie, “The Empire Strikes Back” hit the streets at the end of my sophomore year, many of us were convinced that Yoda was channeling Gannon.

Fr Gannon and I, 1981
Fr Gannon and I, 1981

He was also the genius behind the Fall Review, an annual talent show that packed the Gunster Auditorium every October. Despite the fact that I can not sing and I have two left feet, he saw fit to put me in the chorus for the shows in 1980 and 1981, I’m sure it was penance for something I had done wrong. He also enlisted me to be one of his student managers for Campus Bowl, a scholastic competition that filled the cafeteria every week during the spring semester.  I have no idea what this man saw in me.  He was always giving me a chance to work on something, usually something out of my comfort zone.

He took an interest in me. It became apparent that he knew much more about me than I had revealed. I guess you could say that he saw right through me. Against everything that experience had taught me to that point, I trusted this man. He picked up pretty quickly that I was the son of an alcoholic. He was himself a friend of Bill. We had many long conversations about alcoholism and my father in his office on the first floor of the library. My father stopped drinking and completed a residential program to get him on his way to sobriety during my freshman year at Scranton. I was not supportive of my father’s sobriety at first. I questioned his motives and I had doubts as to my father’s sincerity and commitment.  You may have deduced that I have trust issues that are deeply seeded. I suspected that there were ulterior motives at work here and I was not going to set myself up for another disappointment. Father Gannon spent a lot of time helping me to get to a point where I could have a relationship with my own father.

Money was always an issue for me in college. I had always been pretty self-sufficient, so I was always looking for a way to make a few bucks to support my Asteroids habit in the basement of Gunster. I had a work-study job in Dean Parente’s office and later in the Counseling Center on the top floor of St. Thomas Hall working for Professor Cannon. I ran the soda machine concession in the basement of Montgomery House (we knew it by its nickname “The Grad House”). I proctored tests (GMAT, GRE, MCAT, LSAT, etc…) on weekends when they were given at the “U.” Tuition and room and board were supplemented by waiting tables and tending bar at an establishment called “The Upper Crust” downtown. I was usually there 4-5 nights a week.

One night a group of priests came into the Upper Crust for dinner. Among them was Father Gibson. Needless to say, I was immediately on edge. I did not have their table. Because business was kind of slow that night, I convinced my boss to let me leave early. While he was usually pretty unreasonable, I think he saw how agitated I was and decided it was better to just let me go. As I was gathering up my coat and heading for the door, I ran into Gibson. He started some small talk, I put my shoulder down and blew through him on the way to the door.  That was the last time I saw Father Gibson in person.

Scranton was my safe zone. It was the first place that I ever felt comfortable in my own skin. I had friends, was developing confidence and letting my guard down a little bit. The sight of Gibson in “my world” freaked me out.  I went back to the Grad House and tripped off the line. I blew off classes for a few days and didn’t go to work. I was thinking about emptying my bank account and heading to the bus station and just disappearing. I contemplated ending it all. At that point, I did not think that I had options.

One of the things I blew off during this descent into depression was Campus Bowl. BIG MISTAKE! Father Gannon summoned me to his office in the library.  When I did not show up, he sent someone for me. He sent a member of the school’s club hockey team with orders to drag me to the library if necessary.   In his typical, no-nonsense style he demanded to know what was going on. Despite my protestations that nothing was wrong, he was determined to get to the bottom of the crisis. He was not going to tolerate my “thousand mile stare” for another moment.  I decided to tell him everything about Gibson, on the condition it was within the context of confession.  He listened for about 2 hours in the cluttered office. When I had said everything I was willing to say, we both sat in silence for a while. He looked at me and apologized. This time he did not offer me absolution, he declared me blameless for what had happened.  The strain was evident in his eyes. To this day he has been the only priest to offer me an apology for what happened. Given the state I was in and the helplessness I was feeling, I knew I was not acting rationally. Those hours spent with Father Gannon kept me in school and probably saved my life. For that, and many other things, I will be eternally grateful to him.

Father Gannon was my last confessor. He asked me several times after my last confession for permission to do something on my behalf. I politely refused. Given that he was a man of his word, I am certain he carried my secret to the end.

When I attended my 25th class reunion in 2007, I walked up to Gannon Hall, as if to pay my respects to the man who talked me off the ledge.  I wonder if the students living in that building now have any idea of the lasting impact that man had on generations of students?

Shameful Legacy

Bishop Martino

The current Bishop of Scranton and his predecessor have a dismal record of dealing with the issue of priest sexual abuse. While these men should have been working hard to tend to their flocks and drive the wolves from the church,  they seem to be proud of the fact that they have kept the financial damage from the sex abuse scandal to a  minimum. it seems that they were simply moving the problem from parish to parish, creating increasingly greater opportunities for these priest to find new victims.

The Catholic Church decided to handle the problem on its own, placing itself above the law and often failing to follow its own laws and teachings in their effort to cover up the crimes of its priests.  The Bishops may have been willing conspirators by helping to hide their predator priests and downplay the victims of sexual abuse in order to minimize the diocese’ exposure, protect church assets and avoid unfavorable publicity and scrutiny.  I’m sure the Bishop did not want a state investigator going through the personnel records or a motivated District Attorney exposing the involvement of the Bishop and his subordinates.  One would think this would be the strategy employed by organized crime in dealing with people who came forward with information detrimental to the organization.  Their “imposition” of Canon Law sanctions (or a lack thereof) on predator priests is as offensive an application of theological law to me as the imposition of Sharia law by Muslims.  The Catholic Church has gone rogue.

What evidence do I have to support this?  The sheer number of incidents and multiple repeat offenses by  priests in the diocese indicate that a climate exists for these people to have behaved in a criminal manner under the protection of the Bishop.

The Diocese of Scranton has had a number of priests accused, sued and/or convicted. A newspaper article indicated that there are at least 25 Diocesan priests that have been implicated in the Church’s sexual abuse scandal. 16 of those priests have been identified publicly while at least 9 are still being shielded by the current Bishop.  Given the dismal records of Bishop Timlin and Bishop Martino, it seems that the Diocese of Scranton may still be a safe harbor for offending priests.

I think it is time to rehash the list of the known offenders that have been documented in the Diocese of Scranton. I compiled this information from a variety of sources including newspapers, websites and organizations that are trying to force a change in attitude of church leadership in dealing with the scandal. It is not over, people! As long as the Diocese of Scranton and the Catholic hierarchy in the United States and in Rome continue to pay lip service to the scandal and hope that victims simply melt away while protecting those who have acted criminally, this problem will not abate. Abuse will continue to thrive in an atmosphere of secrecy.

The known rogues gallery for the Diocese of Scranton: (Assignment Histories are linked where they are available)

  • Robert J. Brague: He denied an inappropriate relationship with a 17 year old girl until he had to admit his activities when the girl became pregnant. A civil settlement was reached in 1995. He moved to Venice Florida where he continued as a priest until his death in 1997.  Assignment History
  • Francis Brennan: Sued twice for his inappropriate and criminal activities. Unfortunately, the statute of limitations had run out and the civil suits were dismissed. The Bishop of Scranton had been informed of his activities and he was reassigned, unfortunately the Bishop failed to remove this man from ministry. He died in 1974. Assignment History
  • Robert Caparelli: One of the more prolific pedophiles in the Diocese. Despite reports to the Diocese, he was continually reassigned to various parishes until his arrest in 1991. He was convicted and sentenced to prison. He died, while in prison, of AIDS. Several law suits have been settled by the Diocese with his victims. In the interest of full disclosure, Father Caparelli was assigned to St Vincents at a time when my parents were members of that church. Assignment History
  • Christopher Clay: Implicated in the Society of St John scandal. Accused of molesting a seminarian. He has never been sued or charged. However, he was suspended from ministry. He left Northeastern Pennsylvania and was acting as a priest in a church in Arlington Texas in 2004. Assignment History
  • Peter Crynes: Accused of sexual misconduct with 2 women. A newspaper report indicates that he admitted to inappropriate behavior with 2 high school girls. His case was allegedly forward to the Vatican for review. Assignment History
  • Eric Ensey: Part of the Society of St John Scandal. Suspended in 2002, sued in 2003. Settled with the victim. He is allegedly living in Paraguay. Assignment History
  • Robert Gibson: If you have read my blog before you are acquainted with this priest. He has been accused by at least 4 people of molesting adolescent boys. I am one of the accusers. According to the Diocese he is currently in a treatment facility in Missouri, suffering from dementia. Assignment History
  • Alex Hazzouri: Accused of sexually assaulting a 14 year old girl. The suit was dismissed
  • Albert Liberatore, Jr.: Accused of molesting an altar boy. Arrested and convicted in 2004. The Bishop was informed of his activities in 1997 but seemingly took no action. Reached a $3M settlement with the victim. Assignment History
  • Edward Shoback: Admitted to sexual misconduct with boys over a period of several decades. He is still collecting a pension which is garnished for the purpose of paying restitution to one of his victims. Never convicted. Assignment History
  • Thomas Skotek: Admitted to improper conduct and removed from ministry in 2002. Bishop Timlin returned him to duty after and evaluation. Assignment History
  • Michael Stevens: Pleaded guilty to sexual activity with a minor. While not in ministry, he does work on a diocesan computer team.
  • Virgil Tetherow: Arrested for downloading child porn on a church computer.
  • “Father Ned”: Accused of assaulting two boys. After completing counseling he was cleared for reassignment and molested a third boy.
  • Carlos Urrutigoity: Involved in the Society of St. John scandal. Accused of abusing at least 2 seminary students. At least 2 suits filed, one settled. He is now alleged to be living in Paraguay. Assignment history
  • Lawrence Weniger: Accused of fondling several boys in the 1960’s. Several allegations have been reported to the diocese according to then Bishop Timlin. Weniger died in 1972. Assignment History

According to press reports, there are at least nine additional diocesan priest who have been accused of sexual misconduct. Why are those names not provided to the public for the safety of parishioners? Is the Diocese of Scranton silently complicit in crimes against children by allowing these people to continue in ministry?

If you know of more abusive priests in Scranton, come forward. The list above may just be the tip of the iceberg.  It is by no means a complete list.

Vatican issues screening guidelines for priests

The Vatican issues Screening guidelines for priests, but they failed to issue guidelines to screen out Bishops and other deniers of the Sexual Abuse Scandal.

I guess it is one painfully inadequate step at a time for the leadership of the Catholic Church.

AP – Three priests cross St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, in this Oct. 18, 2002 file photo. (AP Photo/Luciano Vatican issues screening guidelines for priests

VATICAN CITY – The Vatican issued new psychological screening guidelines for seminarians Thursday — the latest effort by the Roman Catholic Church to be more selective about its priesthood candidates following a series of sex abuse scandals.

The church said it issued the new guidelines to help church leaders weed out candidates with “psychopathic disturbances.” The scandals have rocked the church in recent years, triggering lawsuits that have cost hundreds of millions of dollars in settlements.

“(The guidelines) became ever more urgent because of the sexual scandals,” Monsignor Jean-Louis Brugues told reporters. He stressed, however, that psychological testing was used in some seminaries as far back as the 1960s — or at least a decade before the sexual abuse scandals exploded in public.

“In all too many cases, psychological defects, sometimes of a pathological kind, reveal themselves only after ordination to the priesthood,” the guidelines said. “Detecting defects earlier would help avoid many tragic experiences.”

The guidelines said problems like “confused or not yet well-defined” sexual identities need to be addressed.

The Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests said the Vatican needs to go beyond screening seminarians to end what the group calls the church’s “virtually unchanged culture of secrecy and unchecked power in the hierarchy” that left dangerous priests in parishes.

“Every barrel will always have some bad apples,” the Survivors Network said. “Real change requires effectively reforming the barrel and those who oversee it.”

Vatican officials conducted an evaluation of U.S. Roman Catholic seminaries in response to the abuse crisis to look for anything that contributed to the scandal. The evaluation was completed in July of 2006, but the results have not been made public.

The bishops and seminary staff who conducted the onsite reviews gave special attention to what seminarians are taught about chastity and celibacy. The Vatican also directed the evaluators to look for “evidence of homosexuality” in the schools.

Studies commissioned by the bishops’ conference have found that the majority of known victims of abuse by priests in the last 50 years were adolescent boys. In response, some Catholics have blamed gay clergy for the scandal; experts on sex offenders contend homosexuals are no more likely than heterosexuals to molest children.

A 2005 Vatican document said men with “deep-seated” homosexual tendencies shouldn’t be ordained, but that those with a “transitory problem” could become priests if they had overcome them for three years. The Vatican considers homosexual activity sinful.

The new guidelines reflect the earlier teaching, stressing that if a future priest shows “deep-seated homosexual tendencies,” his seminary training “would have to be interrupted.”

The guideline say priests must have a “positive and stable sense of one’s masculine identity” and the capacity to “integrate his sexuality in accordance” with the obligation of celibacy.

The church is struggling to provide enough priests for parishes in many parts of the West because of waning vocations. But Pope Benedict XVI has said it is more important to have good priests than a greater number of priests.<br>
Original Story from Yahoo News

Support Groups

I have been looking for an organization that could provide information and guidance in helping me deal with this mess. The obvious group is the Survivor’s Network for those Abused by Priests or SNAP. Snap has a pretty comprehensive website with frequent updates on news, legislative updates and events that impact those who have been affected by the actions of clergy who are sexual predators. It is a national website so it has a pretty big reach.

The only issue I have with the SNAP website is that the list of local support groups is not up to date. When I first started to come to terms with what had happened and I did go looking for information on support groups or organizations that were actively working on the problems faced by victims and their families. I checked on the points of contact of those groups within a reasonable driving distance from my home. I live in Southeastern Virginia so I checked on the Hampton Roads and Richmond area support groups. Neither area is active and the points of contact listed do not respond to emails and/or phone messages. There is a group in Northern Virginia that seems to be active, but it is an effort to make it that far north for a monthly meeting.

I would recommend to SNAP that they update their site and QA the points of contact for their regional groups.

One other note, organizations like SNAP rely on donations to keep their efforts alive and keep the heat on the Church to do the right thing. I took the opportunity, as a federal government civilian employee, to donate to SNAP through the Combined Federal Campaign this year. If you support the cause of finding some justice for victims and forcing some accountability on the Bishops who are supporting predator priests, please consider donating to SNAP, Bishop Accountability or The Foundation to Abolish Child Sex Abuse.

If you are a practicing Catholic and you participated in the withholding of donations from your church on 16 November, 2008. Please consider making that donation to one of the organizations that is supporting the victim instead of giving the money to the church to support predatory priests.

The Face of My Abuser

I finally downloaded the drivers to get my HP “All in One” to work with VISTA on my laptop. Once I had the scanner working I was able to scan a photo of Father Gibson out of the 1976 Notre Dame High School yearbook. He was listed as the Pastor of Our Lady Queen of Peace in Brodheadsville, Pennsylvania in this edition of the yearbook. I graduated in 1978, my yearbook is long gone, the victim of a move I made at some point in my Naval career.

Anyway, here is the face of my nightmares:
Father Robert J. Gibson

Investigations of Abuse Claims Are Optional?

In the time that has elapsed since I made my initial report to the Victim’s Advocate at the Diocese of Scranton about the abuse that occurred, I have spoken to only 2 people who have an official affiliation with the Diocese.  Joan Holmes, the Victim’s Advocate, has been helpful in providing information and offering support from the beginning.  I spoke to her as recently as 1 November.  I find her to be sincere and genuine in her work to assist the people who come to her with claims that range from the inappropriate to criminal.  I cannot imagine that she sleeps well after listening to some of the stories she is told. Mrs. Holmes is not a direct employee of the Diocese, she tells me she is an independent contractor.

The second person I have spoken with is Mr Bill Genello, the communications director.  He struck me as dismissive and condescending in our brief phone conversation in July, 2008.  I won’t belabor that as it was the basis of an earlier post to this blog.

The point I am trying to make is that I have never been interviewed, either in person or over the phone by anyone who was actually looking into the  claim I was making.  There has been no effort, that I am aware of, on the part of the Diocese of Scranton to investigate the circumstances surrounding Father Gibson’s activities while I was with him.  One would reasonably think that the Diocese would be interested in either vindicating a priest accused of criminal activity or document his activity in an effort to remove him from any environment where he could repeat his behavior.

I wonder why the Diocese of Scranton has not conducted an interview with me.  If they did an investigation, I find it incredible that they would not include the victim’s story as part of the process.  If they have not done the investigation, can they tell me why?

I can only speculate as to the reason that no investigation has been initiated.  Some possible reasons could be:

  1. Father Gibson has admitted to the offenses
  2. Given his past admissions to other complaints and the nature of my complaint, the Diocese has decided that it is more than likely that I am telling the truth
  3. The Diocese understands the the statutes of limitations have expired both in criminal and civil courts in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and have made the decision to just not deal with the issue because they are protected from liability
  4. The Diocese just doesn’t care

The Diocese has an obligation, under the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People to take allegations of sexual misconduct seriously and investigate all complaints. Article II of the document requires an assessment of claims of sexual abuse. How is it possible that a determination can be made without interviewing the person making the claim?

Article VII of the Charter states:

Dioceses/eparchies are to be open and transparent in communicating with the public about sexual abuse of minors by clergy within the confines of respect for the privacy and the reputation of the individuals involved. This is especially so with regard to informing parish and other church communities directly affected by ministerial misconduct involving minors.

Has the Diocese of Scranton informed the parishes, schools and camps that Father Gibson has been assigned to of the claims against him and his admissions of sexual abuse of minors?  Have they mentioned him by name and indicated the years he was at the respective parishes and schools?   I would be willing to wager that they have not complied with the Charter in these matters.

There has been no investigation into the claims I have made.  Once again, I believe it is because the Bishop of Scranton and the people around him are not interested in coming to terms with the sexual abuse that they have been covering up for decades.  It is business as usual on Wyoming Avenue in Scranton.