A Roman Catholic bishop, who apologized for his herd in the last month for the “misguided and inappropriate decisions of the leaders of the church” is a reckoning with its own role — revealed in the federal district court ten years ago — in the system of protected pedophile priests.
Scranton Bishop Joseph Bambera handled three sexual misconduct cases during his three-year tenure as episcopal vicar for the clergy. He testified about one of them in 2007, is a civil lawsuit over the clergy and abuse.
Under questioning by plaintiff’s lawyer, Bambera acknowledged the diocese ignored its own policies by not reporting, “Father Ned” — a pseudonym used in court of civil authorities. He testified that Father Ned was removed from the ministry only temporarily for the gain of another parish assignment. Once there, Bambera told the jury, Father Ned was caught “grooming” the boy for sexual assault.
The Associated Press has learned that the Father of Ned’s real name is ds. Robert Gibson, who died in 2012. Gibson is one of the approximately 300 predator priests named in a monumental Pennsylvania grand jury report that says more than 1,000 children in six Catholic dioceses have been since the 1940’s.
Bambera’s participation in the Gibson case highlights the fact that some of the current bishops, while they rise through the ranks, helped their superiors shield priests accused of abuse from law enforcement and allowed them to continue in the ministry — or at least had knowledge of the cover-up by senior church officials, and not flutes.
“He knew. He was part of the system,” said Marci Hamilton, one of the University of Pennsylvania legal expert on the sexual abuse of children and the founder of the CHILD of the USA, an advocacy group.
Bambera, who has stressed his zero-tolerance policy in the direction of the clergy abuse since he Scranton’s bishop in 2010, said Bishop James Timlin had already decided to reassign Gibson to another parish by the time Bambera became pastor in 1995. He said that he worked to ensure Gibson and other priests accused of abuse were eventually excluded from the ministry.
“I could have done things better? I want there to be things that were different in those days? Yeah, I do, I do,” Bambera told the AP. “I wish that law enforcement was busy on a much much more regular basis than it was.” But he said there was only so much he could do: “I worked for Bishop Timlin and the decisions were his to make, they were not of me.”
On Friday, Bambera excluded Timlin of the representation of the diocese in public, citing his failure to protect children from abuse by priests. Bambera said in a statement announcing Timlin the punishment that the grand jury report had also “made me think about my own role in dealing with allegations of abuse in the church” and “to consider my role and actions in the past in protecting children.”
Bambera is not the only current Pennsylvania bishop whose handling of old abuse cases has come under the microscope. If Bambera, Pittsburgh Bishop David Zubik and Allentown Bishop Alfred Schlert, in a high-ranking church officials responsible for investigating reports of sexual misconduct.
The grand jury of Zubik, on behalf of Pittsburgh Bishop Donald Wuerl, 1991 wrote a letter, giving permission to a known child molester to contribute to a parish in the Diocese of Reno-Las Vegas. Wuerl, now cardinal archbishop of Washington, D. C., has under fierce criticism about his tenure in Pittsburgh. In Allentown, the grand jury said Schlert was involved in the diocese’s 2002 attempt to discredit a victim of priestly abuse. The bishop has flatly denied.
In the Scranton case, the grand jury said the diocese was first contacted about the Gibson — the Father of the Ned — by a lawyer for a man who claimed that he was a priest sexually abused him 20 years earlier. Gibson admitted to the resigned as pastor and was sent to the Saint John Vianney Center outside Philadelphia for the treatment.
Before the great church reform in 2002, the bishops often sent abusive priests to treatment and allowed them to return to the ministry. So, eight months after his resignation, and a month after Bambera was vicar for the clergy, the Gibson left the treatment and went to live in a rectory outside of Wilkes-Barre.
Gibson was reinstated “to a limited ministry as a parish priest”, based on the recommendation of the mental health services in St. john Vianney Center, diocesan spokesman Bill Genello said via e-mail.
Bambera, as the top advisor of Timlin, participated in closed door discussions about Gibson, according to his 2007 testimony. But he told jurors the final decision about what to do with the priest equipped with Timlin. The grand jury documented Timlin role in hiding clergy sexual abuse, but only mentioned Bambera a few times.
“To be fair to Bambera, he was not the ultimate decision maker here,” said Nicholas Cafardi, a canon lawyer and former dean of the Duquesne University School of Law.
Hamilton said Bambera, the subordinate role is no excuse. She has called on the Pennsylvania officers of justice to file child endangerment against bishops who hid the abuse so well as subordinates who took part. Hamilton noted the case of Philadelphia Monsignor William Lynn, the first Catholic Church official convicted over his handling of sexual-abuse complaints.
Lynn — who, as vicar of the clergy, held in the same position Bambera did in Scranton — served 33 months from three to six years ‘ imprisonment for a member state to the court of appeals gave him a new trial, which is pending.
“They did the same thing,” Hamilton said. “And what they did was put kids on the path of pedophiles.”
Bambera told the AP that while he has not worked perfectly, did what he could for the removal of abusive priests, and “I clearly have to raise my voice and my concerns on many occasions about the behavior and the decisions I didn’t agree with.”