CRANBERRY TWP — Many called for the resignation of Bishop David Zubik in an emotional meeting Thursday night at St. Ferdinand Roman Catholic Church, where the bishop made his fourth and final stop in a series of listening sessions around the Diocese of Pittsburgh.
Through tears, survivors of abuse, friends and family of those abused and parishioners throughout the area recounted their experiences with sexual abuse by clergy members and their reaction to the state grand jury report on sexual abuse and rape within the Catholic church.
The report, issued in August, listed 18 clergymen with a Butler County connection as having been accused of various sexual crimes at some point in their careers.
Ryan O'Connor stood up and recounted his abuse at the hands of both his baby sitter and his priest.
O'Connor said the experiences led to a life of substance abuse and despair for many years.
While he ultimately recovered from these addictions, O'Connor said the impact of the abuse on his life continues.
“I had to tell my 12-year-old daughter what I went through,” he said.
O'Connor said he wouldn't let his family find out about his experience in the news or online.
Today, he travels the state speaking about the importance of dealing with this issue and of reforming the statute of limitations laws.
O'Connor said those in authority are equally responsible for enabling the abuse and need to be held accountable.
“You murdered souls,” he said. “I'm still a practicing Catholic and I can't get through Mass without crying, bishop … Where is the justice?”
He said the leadership of the church needs to take ownership of what happened and is happening in the church.
Others spoke of the hardship and trauma of keeping the secret of abuse for years and often decades.
Clara Callahan talked about the impact on her family after one of her siblings was abused by a priest.
Callahan said the experience has led to distrust throughout her life and in her relationships, telling her children never to be alone with an adult, even in school.
“I'm telling my 5-year-old 'don't trust your teacher,'” she said.
Attendees discussed the state of their faith and the impact these revelations have had on it. Many talked about the “privilege” of those in the clergy, insulating them from understanding how people have been affected. Others called for reforms to the priesthood, letting women be priests and letting priests marry.
While calls for Zubik to step down brought applause from those attending, some spoke in defense of the bishop.
Through it all, Zubik listened, sitting at the front of the sanctuary and speaking only to ask those addressing him to provide contact information to staff or to comfort a man who has been abused at the hands of clergy.
While the session was for listening, Zubik promised a response before Ash Wednesday in March.