Bishop Emeritus Trautman explains why he appealed the PA Dioceses Grand Jury report

Local News

Bishop Emeritus Donald Trautman has released a statement regarding the Grand Jury report of members of the Pennsylvania Dioceses’ alleged abusers.  

In his statement, he offers his prayers, his apologies, and stance on the issue of the report’s release.  Originally, Trautman had filed an appeal as to the release of the report, saying he appealed because the “…report did not give a fair, accurate, and complete portrayal of his conduct and actions while Bishop of the Diocese for 22 years…”

When the appeal was granted, and Trautman realized that this meant the full report would not be released to the public, the statement says he reached out to Attorney General Josh Shapiro to come to a compromise.  “We thank the Attorney General for his cooperation in entering the stipulation that led to Bishop Trautman withdrawing his appeal, including the Attorney General’s willingness to agree to the concessions in paragraphs four and five of the Stipulation, which help make the report more fair and accurate.”

In the statement, it is clear Trautman wants the public to understand that he did his best to assist victims of abuse and did not try to hide or cover up any incidents that occurred under his leadership.

After this release, Attorney General Josh Shapiro released his own statement, saying:

“Bishop Donald Trautman withdrew his appeal, paving the way for the voices of victims from the Erie Diocese to be heard and not subject to redaction. This was the right decision and should serve as a model for others who continue to fight the release of the report.”

Trautman’s full statement is as follows:

“As he has done his entire career, Bishop Trautman sends his prayerful support to all victims of clergy sexual abuse. Bishop Trautman shares the Grand Jury’s and Attorney General’s disgust with clergy sexual abuse and extends a sincere apology to all who have been harmed by clergy abuse. Bishop Trautman has always endeavored to put the needs and concerns of victims of abuse first and his complete record while in office proves this. Today he did that again, even though doing so required him to sacrifice his own personal rights.  

Bishop Trautman appealed to the Supreme Court, not to block publication of the grand jury report, but because the grand jury report did not give a fair, accurate and complete portrayal of his conduct and actions while Bishop of the Diocese for twenty-two years. As his legal filings consistently indicated, Bishop Trautman’s primary goal was to ensure that any report released to the public is fair, accurate and complete.

In its recent Opinion, the Supreme Court determined that the process afforded to Bishop Trautman with regard to the grand jury report was not Constitutionally sufficient or fundamentally fair. The Supreme Court criticized grand jury proceedings “where the evidence is controlled by a single presenter — the attorney for the Commonwealth — free from any requirement to adduce legally competent evidence, or exculpatory proofs. Such freedoms may enhance the internal functionality of grand juries, but we reiterate that they also represent a limitation upon its truth-finding capabilities.”

Although the Supreme Court’s ruling provided protection for Bishop Trautman’s individual rights, when it became obvious that his appeal might result in the public not being able to see large portions of the report concerning the Diocese, he quickly instructed his attorney to reach out to the Attorney General’s Office to attempt to reach a resolution. We thank the Attorney General for his cooperation in entering the Stipulation (attached) that led to Bishop Trautman withdrawing his appeal, including the Attorney General’s willingness to agree to the concessions in paragraphs four and five of the Stipulation, which help make the report more fair and accurate. It is often difficult for legal adversaries to agree, but in this case, that obstacle was overcome because of the common goal shared by both Bishop Trautman and the Attorney General – helping victims of clergy abuse.

Bishop Trautman’s efforts to care for victims are probably best exemplified by kind words that victims of clergy abuse have written to him over the years. One tragic victim, who Bishop helped counsel for over a year, wrote to him: “Finally[,] My Dear Bishop, If I can call you a friend[,] I believe God gave me the means to a cure through you. I have been with just a handful of people in my travels that you can feel they are God[’]s best work and are here to teach his ways. You are one of them and I thank the Dear Lord each day knowing that you are there if I need to talk.” Another victim, who was abused by the same priest, wrote, in a 1996 letter to Bishop Trautman, “Your prompt attention, kindness and compassion as the Ordinary of the Diocese of Erie is appreciated. Words alone cannot describe my gratitude for your generous support[.]”  

Bishop Trautman’s record while in office is documented in detail in his Response to the grand jury report, which will soon be made public.

His record includes:

• Bishop Trautman personally met or attempted to meet with every victim of abuse, including traveling to their homes to do so. And, like he did for the first victim whose letter is quoted above, when victims would permit him, he personally provided pastoral counselling for the victims’ well-being. He also helped ensure that victims had appropriate mental health treatment paid for by the Diocese. He 
did this both before and after the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People (the “Charter”) was passed. 
 • In April 2002, Bishop Trautman worked with the District Attorney’s Office for Erie County to review Diocesan records related to abuse allegations. After this review, the District Attorney’s Office announced publicly that no offenders remained in a position where they would present a danger to the children of the community. 
 • Bishop Trautman established new Diocesan guidelines for clergy and lay persons concerning sexual abuse in 1993 and oversaw their execution and fulfillment. These guidelines were enhanced under his leadership, before the Charter, in early 2002, and again after passage of the Charter.  
 • Bishop Trautman established the Diocesan Office for the Protection of Children and Youth in 2003 and staffed it with full-time personnel. The creation of this special office aimed at ensuring a safe environment for children in the Diocese and assisting victims of abuse was not required by the Charter or Pennsylvania law. Bishop Trautman formed it of his own volition to help abuse victims and to help prevent abuse. 
 • Bishop Trautman, in 2003, hired former FBI agents to review Diocesan files to help ensure that child predators were put out of ministry and to review compliance with the Charter.  
 • Bishop Trautman routinely notified appropriate law enforcement authorities of credible allegations of abuse and made sure the Diocese cooperated with law enforcement investigations. Victims were also advised of their right to inform law enforcement. 
 • During Bishop Trautman’s time in office, he removed, at least, 22 priests from active ministry, at least 16 of which removals related to claims of abuse or issues with children. He removed these priests via suspension or other canonical limitations and moved to have several of them laicized. In several instances, even though mental health professionals advised that a priest could be returned to ministry, Bishop Trautman kept the priest out of public ministry. 
 • If a credible allegation was brought to him while bishop, Bishop Trautman never reassigned a priest to parish ministry who had been removed from ministry or had his ministry limited based on allegations of sexual abuse. 
 • If a priest was under suspension and he moved out of the Diocese, it was Bishop Trautman’s  practice to notify the district attorney in the county to which the priest had moved, as well as the Bishop in the diocese to which the priest had moved. 
 
The above actions are hardly the actions of a Bishop trying to hide or mask pedophile priests to the detriment of children or victims of abuse. What is clear from his overall conduct – and complete actual record – is that he cared deeply about the victims of abuse, did his best to help the victims both pastorally and financially, consistently took action to remove abusers from active ministry and cooperated with law enforcement officials, including the District Attorney for Erie County. There is no evidence that Bishop Trautman moved priests from parish to parish to “cover up” abuse allegations or that he failed to take action when an allegation was raised. There simply is no pattern or practice of putting the Church’s image or a priest’s reputation above the protection of children. The above record demonstrates just the opposite. 
 
Bishop Trautman sends his prayers and deepest support to all victims of abuse.”

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