Rod Dreher and Bishop Joseph Adamec got in a dust-up in the pages of the Wall Street Journal over Rod’s article exposing the bishop for covering up abuse and putting a gag order on his priests. Adamec wrote:
Rod Dreher, in his Houses of Worship column (Taste page, Weekend Journal March 7), accused me of “concealing abuse accusations against four priests” and “threatening to excommunicate any priest who publicly disagrees” with me. Both statements are untrue.
Since I became Bishop of Altoona-Johnstown in the Spring of 1987, I have had to deal with a number of allegations involving the abuse of minors, all of them occurring years earlier. I have suspended priests who were known threats to children and investigated other allegations, some of which were not able to be substantiated. A lengthy statement about the handling of these matters can be accessed on our Diocesan web site: [url=http://www.diocesealtjtn.org/news]http://www.diocesealtjtn.org/news[/url] .
I am supposed to have placed our priests under some sort of gag order. What that refers to, I presume, is not a gag order but a verbal presentation that was made last fall at a clergy conference. That presentation explained the laws of the church relative to a person publicly inciting public dissent against the church. The law is not mine but that of the universal church as found in the code of canon law, and it applies particularly to the priests and deacons who are an extension of the bishop’s teaching authority. Neither that presentation nor the case of the reported precept against a certain priest had anything to do with the abuse of minors on the part of priests or the reporting thereof. I am fully aware that we as clergy are mandatory reporters.
In his letter yesterday, Bishop Joseph Adamec of Altoona-Johnstown, Pa., accused me of making two untrue accusations in my March 7 “Houses of Worship” column. It is indisputably true that, as I said in the column, that the local newspaper has reported allegations that Adamec has covered up abuse accusations against four local priests. According to the Tribune-Democrat in Johnstown, Adamec has in four extant cases of alleged priest sex abuse not followed the national guidelines adopted by the country’s Catholic bishops last summer. The county district attorney called the bishop’s conduct in the matter “disappointing.” Catholic lay leaders have declared publicly that they went to the media with this information after being rebuffed by the bishop—the same bishop who refused to answer questions about the apparent cover-up until the Tribune-Democrat’s revelations forced him to. About Adamec, abuse victims’ leader David Clohessy has said, “Almost no bishop in the country so steadfastly refuses to acknowledge even a single mistake.” That’s some achievement.
Secondly, Adamec puts a preposterous spin on a verbal presentation he gave to his priests last fall. I’ve personally spoken with Altoona-Johnstown priests who said the bishop warned that priests could face canonical sanction, including excommunication, if they criticized him publicly. Now Adamec is claiming that he was merely warning them against “publicly inciting public dissent against the church.” This is rich.
For one thing, Adamec has never been known as a staunch defender of Catholic orthodoxy (indeed, quite the opposite). For another, as difficult as it is for many bishops to believe, the bishop is not the same thing as the church. Besides, Adamec has done this before to a priest he found troublesome. Monsignor Philip Saylor, a respected priest who was intimately aware of the diocese’s atrocious record of handling priest pederasty cases, received a decree signed by Adamec on September 9, 1999, in which he was threatened with possible suspension and excommunication if he ever made a public statement that, among other things, caused the faithful to think poorly of their bishop. (The decree can be viewed at: http://www.dioceseaj.com/docs/saylor.html ).
Sounds like cover-up to me. Is there any wonder why Altoona-Johnstown priests are afraid? Tell the truth about ecclesial corruption, and you could not only be defrocked, but thrown out of the church forever. Those poor priests can lose everything if they cross Adamec—all the more reason for faithful laymen to rise to defend them and our church from bishops who seem to be doing their best to sully it.
Rod makes many of the same points I have made on these pages. The bishop has been as underhanded as any in shuffling pervert priests and seems completely unrepentant of it. He has steadfastly refused to admit he made any mistakes or took any outrageous action, despite being presented with clear evidence. He must believe that stonewalling, denials, and obfuscation will end criticism of him. The bishop should know that Bill Clinton is not a good role model for a successor of the apostles.