Erie bishop sees light on church’s shame

The list of names is lengthy, and the damage done by the people on it is incalculable.

It’s an especially egregious and enduring form of damage, done to children by betraying their innocence and trust.

Erie Catholic Bishop Lawrence Persico last Friday released the names of 51 people connected to the Catholic Diocese of Erie who had been credibly accused of sexual misconduct involving minors from 1944 to the present.

The list includes 34 priests or former priests, 21 of whom are dead. It also includes 17 laypeople, two of whom are dead.

Some of the names on the list had previously been reported by the Erie Times-News. Others are seeing the light of day for the first time.

Those implicated include the late Bishop Alfred Watson, whom Persico said failed to act on credible accusations reported to him. That failure led to further abuse, Persico said.

Also on the list is the late William P. Garvey, the longtime president of Mercyhurst University, whom Persico said had been credibly accused in relation to his days as a teacher and coach at St. John the Evangelist School.

Persico’s action is welcome and overdue and follows other moves toward greater transparency since he became bishop in 2012. His predecessor, Bishop Donald W. Trautman, refused to identify abusive or defrocked priests.

But the timing is also notable. Persico’s disclosure comes as the diocese awaits the public report of a statewide investigative grand jury that since 2016 has been probing the diocese’s handling of sexual abuse cases. That report is expected to provide a more complete accounting of the scandal and its handling in the Erie diocese and could identify more abusers.

The grand jury process forced the diocese’s hand, although Persico said he likely would have released the names even in the absence of a grand jury. We’ll have to take that on faith.

For those preyed upon — Persico said he could offer no accounting of the number of victims, though the grand jury report might be more revealing — seeing their abusers identified publicly is likely as close to justice as most will get. Most of the cases involved are beyond the statute of limitations and not subject to prosecution.

We share Persico’s hope that this exposure of past crimes will be of some comfort to victims and help them toward healing. It will also, we hope, diminish the isolation that comes with being victimized as a child.

It has a more practical purpose as well, as Persico pointed out. Some of the people on that list are still living among us or in other communities.

Identifying them serves as a warning about their past.