Faithful taking wait and see approach
Few details available about Mazur’s placement on leave
About 100 people attended Mass at the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament in Altoona at noon Thursday. Some were visitors who were unaware of recent news, and some were locals who just didn’t hear the news yet.
It’s safe to say more than a few were a bit confused when the presiding priest referenced “difficult times” in the opening and closing prayers.
Monsignor Robert C. Mazur, the Cathedral’s rector since 1995, was placed on leave from public ministry Wednesday.
John McIntyre of Hollidaysburg attends Mass daily at the Cathedral or another church.
Regarding Mazur, he said he knew him to be a good man.
“There’s two sides to every story,” McIntyre said.
And right now the sides don’t reveal much.
The diocese’s press release didn’t directly state the reason for Mazur’s leave, except that it was part of an investigation into “alleged misconduct involving a minor.”
Coincidentally, only days before Mazur was put on leave, a former Bishop Guilfoyle High School choral director was accused by Altoona police of grooming and sexually abusing a student.
Richard P. Kuiawa, 78, of Altoona, is the teacher charged. He taught music in the area for years in the mid-1980s.
Mazur was ordained a priest in 1976 and was principal at Bishop Guilfoyle from 1984-89.
The Bishop Guilfoyle connection raises the question of whether Mazur’s oversight as principal during Kuiawa’s BG career was the reason for his being put on leave.
Diocese spokesman Tony DeGol on Friday declined to elaborate beyond the diocese’s original press release.
After noon Mass on Thursday, McIntyre said he didn’t know Mazur was put on leave, so during Mass, his thoughts were not on that at all.
“In Mass, I’m thinking about the fact that we need God in our life every day and if you turn things over to Him, He helps us to have some peace in this world because of all the evil that exists,” he said.
Regarding Mazur’s leave: “Only he and God and the accuser knows,” McIntyre said.
“Problem is today with the climate the way it is, everyone is believing the worst,” McIntyre said.
That climate is fraught with grand jury reports. In August, the Pennsylvania Attorney General released a 2018 statewide grand jury investigation of six Pennsylvania dioceses detailing child sexual abuse by 300 priests over a period of decades.
Walking out of Mass at the Cathedral on Thursday was Rosy Grigg and her husband.
They live in Harrisburg and were in town visiting family in Altoona, but Rosy said she is originally from Mexico.
The couple had no knowledge of Mazur, and not much information was available anyway. However, she acknowledged the abuse in the Diocese of Harrisburg, which was one of the dioceses in the 2018 grand jury report.
“We pray the Holy Spirit inspire us all regardless of what humans do, that the church is here to support everyone. … We should unite ourselves and support every single one who is suffering, including whoever is accused and the victims, and that is what the church is for,” Grigg said.
Received in bits and pieces through news reports, the grand jury report can make the abuses of the church appear to be new, but actually, the allegations involved misconduct from years past, Grigg stressed.
“I think Jesus is cleaning up the house, and only better things can come,” she said. “The worst already happened. It’s out.”
A 2004 study by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice found that abuse by priests in the United States spiked in the 1970s and declined in the ’80s.
The college study remains the only study examining the change of clergy abuse from 1950 to 2002, though it was commissioned by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and based on surveys completed by the dioceses in the United States.
Based on yearly ordination totals for accused diocesan priests compared with the overall number of diocesan priests ordained in that year, the percentages of accused priests range from a maximum of almost 10 percent in 1970, decreasing to 8 percent in 1980 and to fewer than 4 percent in 1990.
The study notes that understanding about sexual abuse and the treatment of sexual offenders changed between 1950 and 2002, and as a result, “both reporting and response to the problem are likely to have been affected.”
In addition, after tallying up dates of alleged abuse, the study found 75 percent of the events allegedly occurred between 1960 and 1984.
The abuses detailed in the Pennsylvania grand jury report as well as the vague new allegation regarding Mazur, which also allegedly occurred “years ago,” fits that finding of the study.
A former New York Times journalist criticized the Pennsylvania grand jury report for presenting information in a way that made the scandal in the church appear timeless, rather than having changed.
Peter Steinfels, former senior religion reporter at the New York Times from 1988-97 published a piece Jan. 15 in Commonwealth magazine.
“The grand-jury report prides itself on being a ‘historical record,’ but this passing gesture toward a history is a caricature,” he wrote.
Lawsuits and increasing allegations spurred bishops to respond, “belatedly but significantly,” Steinfels wrote, in the late 1980s to mid-1990s.
Attitudes took a definitive turn in 2002 with the bishops’ adoption of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, Steinfels wrote.
He stressed that the grand jury report either omitted these changes or glossed over them.
The charter, which passed in the wake of the Boston Globe’s revelations, is a zero-tolerance policy.
When initial credible allegations against predatory priests were made after the charter in 2002, the priests were automatically removed from ministry as quickly as possible no matter how long ago the abuse had occurred.
After 2002, many of the newly accused were, in fact, already retired, inactive or deceased, Steinfels wrote.
One of his biggest criticisms of the grand jury report is: “The report’s conclusions about abuse and coverup are stated in timeless fashion.” And it minimizes the changes from the 1950s to 2002, including new screening processes for seminarians and new reporting requirements resulting from the charter.
Among the people exiting noon Mass on Thursday were Christopher and Anne Wolfe of Dallas, Texas, who were in Altoona to visit family. The couple always goes to daily Mass, they said.
They didn’t know Mazur. But Texas, like Pennsylvania, has a history of abuse by priests.
The Wolfes live in a suburb of Dallas, where the bishops of the United States in 2002 approved the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People — or the Dallas Charter.
Christopher, a University of Dallas politics professor, noted the charter’s impact.
“Most of the sexual abuse was before 2002, and the bishops produced the Dallas Charter in 2002 and have taken very strong steps. I think that has actually been pretty effective,” he said.
“There will always be some instances, but of course, that’s true in every institution or bureaucracy of any sort,” Wolfe said. “There is no indication the sex abuse among clergy is any greater than it is for example, among public school teachers, so it’s a terrible thing when it happens, but I think the church is bouncing back from it. But it’s a tough thing for many people. And understandably so.”
Anne Wolfe added that one of their sons was recently ordained a priest. He’s a Jesuit priest currently studying in Rome, she said.
“I think that a lot of the young men who have entered the priesthood have done so with their eyes opened,” she said. “They know it’s going to be a tough time they’ll face ahead because of what some of their predecessors did. But they’ve gone in because they’ve discerned a call from God, and they really want to serve God and bring people closer. So, I think we have to pray for these young priests, too, that they can be the living image of Christ and inspire the rest of us.”
On Sundays, the cathedral offers the latest Mass in town and draws many visitors.
Jeanie DeGennaro, 87, is a parishioner of Our Lady of Mount Carmel but attends Mass at 5 p.m. Sunday at the Cathedral when she misses morning Mass at her parish.
She called the Mirror newsroom Thursday only to vent to someone about the news coverage of Mazur’s leave from ministry, but then she agreed to be quoted.
“He is always concerned how I am doing because I’m 87,” she said of Mazur.
“I think the world of him,” she said. “He is so down to earth. After my husband died, he was so encouraging and everything. He is one perfect person. If he sees you have a problem, he will try to guide you and tell you what to do. He is a happy, fine person.
“They don’t come any better.”
Mirror Staff Writer Russ O’Reilly is at 946-7435.