It’s been about two weeks since the PA Grand Jury report about the clergy sex abuse scandal and coverups was released and I’ve been mulling over it this whole time. Many other things have come to light since then, as well, and I’ve been quite overwhelmed.
I grew up in the Diocese of Erie, PA and mostly under Bishop Donald W. Trautman. He became our bishop when I was in first grade, just 6 years old. I remember it well because I went to the Catholic school in Meadville, PA and we had a big to-do about putting up his picture and talking about him in class and praying for him. We were told what a good man he was and how he would be a good shepherd for us. I loved him! I loved looking at his picture in our hallway and hearing his name during mass.
In the 90s under Trautman, more safe environment training was put into place by him and youth programs in our diocese soared. He seemed to have a particular heart for young people and it showed. Catholic schools flourished, there was special attention given to parish youth and religious education programs, and the diocese sponsored youth rallies. It was an amazing time to grow up in that diocese and my faith truly flourished. No doubt, this was all because of Trautman and I am grateful for these things.
I was 16, a junior in high school, in 2002 when the clergy sex abuse scandal in Boston broke. I didn’t understand a lot of it. I had never seen a priest interact inappropriately with anyone, so it was hard for me to comprehend what was happening and least of all that it was so wide-spread and institutionalized. In April 2002, then-Bishop Trautman said that he was looking into cases but none of the allegations had taken place during the 12 years that he had been our bishop. I remember him telling us (the members of the diocese; I’m not sure if it was a written statement or what, but I have a clear memory of him reassuring us) that he didn’t know about any of these allegations until then and that they had all happened under his predecessor, Bishop Emeritus Murphy. I believed him. I believed that he didn’t know and that now that he did, he was doing everything he could to rectify the situations, to help the victims and protect the members of the diocese.
A month later (May 2002), Bishop Trautman confirmed me in the small rural parish of St. Philip in Linesville, PA. I chose St. Zoe of Pamphilia as my confirmation saint. In my letter to Trautman explaining why I wished to be confirmed and telling him about my choice of saint, I said that zoe means “God’s life” or “spiritual life” in Greek and that’s what I want to be filled with. The story of St. Zoe herself is shrouded in legend, but all accounts agree that she and her family would share their meager food rations with people poorer than they and that she almost gave up hope, wanting to sacrifice to the pagan gods so they wouldn’t starve while remaining Christians in secret. Her children talked her out of it. Finally, when she and her family refused to sacrifice to the pagan gods, her family was tortured and killed in front of her, her sons kept calling out to her to stay strong in the Faith and that they would see her in heaven, and then she was finally tortured and killed. Being full of God’s life didn’t come easily or naturally to Zoe, but she allowed her family to help strengthen her faith in the midst of distress and trusted in the Lord, and then she was filled with Him. This is what I so greatly desire, and still do– to be filled with God’s life, for Him to sustain me though I am weak. When Bishop Trautman confirmed me, he called me Zoe, and I could feel the indwelling of the Holy Spirit within me, I could feel myself filling up with God’s life. It was an intensely glorious moment for me.
The month after I was confirmed, Bishop Trautman met with other US Bishops in Dallas to come up with ways to protect their flocks. They developed the Dallas Charter. At this time, Trautman had met with a victim who said she hopes that the bishops would “get it” and start helping the victims of priestly abuse; she hoped that bishops would consider the victims and do the right things. In the summer of 2002, it seemed that the bishops were.
In July 2002, I turned 17 and then traveled with over 500 other youths and chaperones and priests to Toronto for World Youth Day with Pope John Paul II. I hadn’t thought much about the priest abuse scandals; my bishop assured us he didn’t know and that he was doing everything he could now, and I trusted him. While my youth group was walking the streets of Toronto one of the days, we encountered about 3 or 4 young adults sitting on a stoop or bench or something right off of the sidewalk. They saw our WYD backpacks, knew we were Catholic, and glared at us. One sneered something along the lines of, “So, you gonna ask your pope about why he lets priests molest people and covers it up?” I was filled with a righteous anger and a desire for these people to know the truth, so I replied that no, I wasn’t going to ask my pope anything because I trusted him and that my bishop was innocent because he didn’t know until then. I trusted that Bishop Trautman was telling us the truth and that he was working to protect us and prevent abuse from happening from now on.
When the PA grand jury report was released on August 14, 2018, it included information that says Trautman did know about allegations of abuse and their coverups before 2002. He lied to me. He lied to me.
Trautman, who has been retired since 2012, released a 15-page response noting that he personally counseled many victims, had many priests with credible accusations or were found guilty of abuse defrocked, and that he put in place safeguards for children. These things are all true. CNA released an article detailing this. But Bishop Emeritus Trautman, for all the good things he has done for victims of priestly abuse, to safeguard the children of our diocese, and other such actions, he hasn’t done one thing. Bishop Emeritus Trautman hasn’t apologized for lying to us in 2002, for saying that he didn’t know about these abuses when he actually did.
Bishop Emeritus Trautman did so many good things for the Diocese of Erie and it was a good place to grow up. He did try to rectify situations of abuse and protect us going forward. So why did he lie to us in 2002? He had nothing to hide and I would’ve still believed him and loved him and prayed for him. I still would’ve stuck up for him on the streets of Toronto in the summer of 2002. The difference is, if he hadn’t lied, I wouldn’t feel so brokenhearted and betrayed right now, 16 years later.
Mark Shea, in a recent post at Patheos, offered an invitation to talk about healing in his comboxes. Here’s what I feel: broken, betrayed, sorrowful, angry. One of my heroes has fallen. If I can’t trust the bishop I grew up under and loved, who can I trust? Certainly, I don’t and haven’t ever put all of my trust in men; we all are prone to sin and mistakes and I do not hold these things against Bishop Emeritus Trautman. I trust in Jesus alone. Everyone else will fail me and I will fail me, but Christ is constant. But Christ also calls for healing. I wasn’t abused, I was just lied to, but the implications of the break in my trust run deep. How can I heal? I don’t live in the Diocese of Erie or in PA anymore and haven’t for many years. How can I heal? What would be healing for me, and I’m willing to bet would be healing for many others, is if Trautman told us he is sorry for misleading us about our situation as a diocese in 2002 and acting as though he hadn’t known about these abuses until then. Repentance is very powerful.
But supposing that Trautman doesn’t apologize, what would be healing for me is Christ. I need permission to feel sorrowful and angry and betrayed and I need permission to go to Christ for His healing and love. We are all broken, sinful people and not everyone will repent of their mistakes and I have no control over that. I can’t force Bishop Emeritus Trautman to apologize. I don’t want to force him to do so. I hope he will, but in the meantime, I will place my trust where it rightfully belongs and continue to pray. In the midst of my brokenheartedness and as I cry out for justice and mercy and truth, I still seek to be filled with God’s life, which is healing and love itself.
Jesus, I trust in You.
Jesus, I trust in You.
Jesus, I trust in You.
***Here are some other resources about what has happened in the Diocese of Erie and Trautman’s response to it all:
Bishop’s account of sexual abuse cover-ups conflicts with grand jury’s findings – The Meadville Tribune