The University of Scranton Task Force Report Is In

Whoever listens to a witness, becomes a witness

Elie Wiesel

The University of Scranton’s Task Force on Healing, Reconciliation and Hope was created in 2018 with the mandate to “address the difficult but necessary questions raised by the Grand Jury report detailing the sexual abuse by Catholic priests in Pennsylvania and failures by church leaders in responding to these situations.”

The report is available on the Task Force Website or in the reports section of this blog. Just scroll down and look at the reports link on the right side of your screen.

“There is good work to be done today and together, and the work undertaken by this Task Force will remind us all never to be distracted from the fear and pain of our sisters and brothers who suffered because of the church and its leaders.”

Scott R. Pilarz, S.J.

Despite the public statement of Scott R. Pilarz, S.J., the President of the University of Scranton, this report seems to document a play-it-safe strategy. His charge to the Task Force had all the right words. “I would urge all members of the community to reach out and share ideas with the members of the Task Force.” But actions speak louder than words.

As both a survivor and a member (I thought) of the University Community, I offered to work with the Task Force. Father Pilarz coolly declined that offer. The Task Force also brushed me aside with assurances that the Task Force would hear from Survivors. The inference was that my experience was not worthy of their time. The message I heard loud and clear was that I was no longer a part of the university community because I was challenging a developing party line.

Reviewing the final report revealed that the Survivors permitted to speak had connections with the Catholic Church either as an employee or status as an active Catholic. Despite Rita Ferrone’s comments at the September 16, 2019, Task Force event where she said “survivors as the prophetic voices in our midst today,” the Task Force demurred to hear those voices.

Survivors from the Diocese of Scranton had no voice until Dave Garrett (A Caparelli survivor) and I (a Gibson survivor) showed up to a public event. We were there to prevent the Vicar General of the Diocese and the Victim Assistance Coordinator from going unchallenged on the “fine work” they claim to be doing on the behalf of victims. The Task Force had a police presence at the event in case survivors came to cause a scene. (See the post “All Roads Lead to Scranton“). What was particularly disturbing that night were the comments of the Victim’s Assistance Coordinator, who seemed to be claiming aggrieved status in the wake of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report. During the question and answer period, Mary Beth Pacuska showed her true colors when confronted by the two survivors and a crowd that was sympathetic to our stories. She proved herself to be an adversary collecting information to aid in the Diocese practice of minimizing and marginalizing victims.

A quote from Arturo Sosa, S.J. on page four had me shaking my head. The quote:

When the university is conceived as a project of social transformation, it moves towards the margins of human history, where it finds those who are discarded by the dominant structures and powers. It is a university that opens its doors and windows to the margins of society. Alongside them comes a new breath of life that makes the efforts of social transformation a source of life and fulfilment (sic).

These are all the right words in all the right places. Still, the Task Force marginalized Survivors by not affording them a chance to contribute, to be heard. Survivors were discarded.

Perhaps Dave Garrett and I made an impact as we questioned the Vicar General and the VAC in what turned out to be the last Task Force event before COVID-19 brought the planet to a screaming halt. I wonder if there was a collective sigh of relief within the Task Force when COVID-19 allowed the clock to run out on the two-year limited mandate.

I recommend that you read the lessons learned and the recommendations on pages 9-10. In general, I agree with almost everything presented in those sections. It looks like there was a moment of clarity. I hope I had something to do with that. Except for recommendation 7, which calls for the “Purchase a work of art to commemorate the initiative of Fr. Scott Pilarz, SJ and to provide a reminder and symbol of hope for future University of Scranton generations.” Seriously? Perhaps a sculpture of an Archer looking stoically at a target with three arrows planted in the ground, just short of the mark.

How about replacing recommendation 7 with an award for services to the University and Community to Eliza Tuffy, a Human Resources employee at the university and volunteer with the Task Force, for her silent compassion. Her act of empathy during the March 2020 event was an actual act of empowering survivors and an action fully in line with the mandate given to the Task Force. (Click on the link and read about what she did.) On the night of the event, she was your MVP.

A few questions for the Task Force, if I may. Why was I so scary to you that you could not grant me an hour of your time? Was I the embodiment of your fears? You wanted to understand what a survivor went through, correct? Was I a threat? I am sure the Diocese planted that seed; survivors are not to be trusted. (That is just the VAC and the Bishop making themselves out to be the victims here.) Were you afraid of triggering me or of a confrontation? You had the police standing by when I was on campus in March 2020. You ignored your mandate; you discarded me just like the Diocese did. Your actions were in keeping with what other Institutions of the Catholic Church have done to the survivors.

My offer to work with the Task Force when it was first announced was sincere. I think I acquitted myself at your event. Was I irrational, threatening or angry? Did I frighten you. Believe me, it took everything I had to calmly approach the Director of Campus security to reassure him that if there was trouble, it would not come from the survivors. I would hope that I had an impact the night I stood up and started asking questions that the Diocese would not answer. Do you regret not talking to me or other Survivors who were not vetted as “friendly” to the Catholic hierarchy?

If you don’t talk to the survivors, how can you know how to apply the talents and expertise of the University Community to work to frame the problem and present courses of action to make a difference? Unless, of course, that was never the intent of the Task Force. Was this all a smokescreen to give the impression that University wanted to understand the scope of the problem when it just wanted the public relations bump?

Do Survivors threaten your faith? Are we a challenge to your balance? I could keep going, but I think the reader gets where I am going.

Robert Gibson stole my dignity, innocence, and trust. This Diocese of Scranton stole my faith and tried to make other survivors and me into villains. The University of Scranton reminded me that I am no longer part of their community.

You had a chance to make a difference, to listen to a witness. You chose instead to take the path of least resistance. What an opportunity to let slide through your fingers!

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