Bishop Gainer discusses revelations of alleged child sex abuse within Catholic Diocese of Harrisburg

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LOWER PAXTON TOWNSHIP, DAUPHIN COUTY, Pa. --- Wednesday brought an announcement and an apology by Bishop Ronald Gainer of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Harrisburg.

He says he's sorry to the survivors and will continue to reach out to those who experienced abuse at the hands of 72 clergy members dating back to 1947.

"To let them know that they are welcome to come forward and if we can assist in any way with their path to wellness, we stand ready to do that," said Bishop Gainer.

It was also an apology, he says, to the members of the Catholic church.

"The faithful and the general public who are hurt and scandalized by this heinous behavior that has taken place," said Gainer.

For the future, a new website launch aims to provide services to victims and sex abuse reporting tools.

They also have a five step plan to protect children from abuse in the future.

"Those parents faithfully trust the care of those children to us and I want them to know that we've done everything reasonable possible to assure the safety of their sons and daughters," said Gainer.

Bishop Gainer said the church is waiving its rights regarding confidentiality agreements as part of past settlements.

It's a move he says they've already practiced with hopes of freeing other survivors who feel constrained by the agreements.

"We've had a request...I think we've recently had two and we immediately withdrew those provisions," said Gainer.

Moving forward, Bishop Gainer ordered the removal of the names implicated in the list from buildings, facilities and rooms within the diocese.

That includes any bishop dating back to 1947.

"Internal investigation of this sad chapter of the history of the diocese reveals that certain decisions that we made...administrative, personnel decisions that were made at the time were not in the best interest of the safety of children," said Gainer.

A spokesperson for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Harrisburg said they're currently working on how many names will be removed and how they will execute removing them.

Bishop gainer said the creation of the list started within the first five months of his tenure

He said he directed staff to investigate personnel to see if any "problem cases had not been resolved."

For example, priests or deacons who no longer served within the church and maintained their title.

"I wanted to identify those, these go beyond abuse cases but it would also include those who were removed from ministry and are floating around somewhere so that we could bring their status to a definitive conclusion," said Gainer.

He said they created the list of 72 clergy members accused of abuse in August 2016.

Bishop Gainer said they received a subpoena for the 40th Statewide Grand Jury Report that September.

He said they intended to release the names but were advised not to by the Office of the Attorney General.

"And I understood that it would somehow interfere with the investigation of the grand jury so we refrained," said Gainer.

When asked about the decision by the Office of the Attorney General, Joe Grace, spokesperson for Attorney General Josh Shapiro, issued the following statement: "A basic part of any investigation is not informing a person that they're under investigation. That can lead to the destruction of evidence. The Diocese of Harrisburg had decades to release the names of these abusers and then they wanted to release the names in the middle of our investigation, at a time when it could only harm our investigation."

Gainer said they felt comfortable releasing the names once the grand jury investigation concluded and the state Supreme Court issued a stay in the report's release.

Bishop Gainer shared his thoughts on the statute of limitations in Pennsylvania, saying he's followed Senate Bill 261.

"I'm fully in support of that," said Gainer.

Currently in Pennsylvania, the statute of limitations expires in civil cases when a victim turns 30 years old.

In criminal prosecution, it expires when a victim turns 50 years old.

The bill Bishop Gainer endorses would cap civil cases when a victim turns 50 years old while eliminating the statute of limitations in criminal cases.

It passed unanimously through the Pennsylvania Senate in January 2017.

After passing through the House Judiciary Committee, it's remained tabled since June 2017.

A different statute of limitation reform bilL, House bill 612, Would include a retroactive provision that would allow victims who aged out of statute to bring a civil suit with appropriate evidence.

Supporters of Senate Bill 261 say they have constitutional concerns about the retroactive provision.

While supporters of the retroactive provision say the state supreme court should make the ruling, not the legislature.

Editor's Note: The Roman Catholic Diocese of Harrisburg announced August 6 that a name has been added to the list, bringing the total to 72 names.

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