Adamec’s legacy, sadly, will forever remain tainted
The fact that retired Altoona-Johnstown Bishop Joseph V. Adamec was laid to rest on Tuesday will not end reflection on his 24-year-long diocesan leadership role.
Unfortunately, but deservedly, much of that reflection will focus on his failures tied to the diocese’s clergy sex-abuse scandal, the scope of which remained unknown until about five years after he retired in 2011.
It was in early 2016 that the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General released a state investigatory grand jury report detailing decades of abuse inflicted on young people by predator priests.
Beyond that, the report focused on a cover-up by the diocese that allowed those predator priests to continue to serve and gave them the opportunity to victimize more young people.
The report placed much of the responsibility for that sordid, unconscionable situation on Adamec and his predecessor, Bishop James J. Hogan.
Adamec was presumed to be well prepared for priestly responsibilities at the time of his ordination in 1960, and he also was deemed well-prepared for much broader responsibilities when he was named Hogan’s successor in 1987.
Unfortunately, he proved himself ill prepared for dealing correctly with the terrible abuse scandal that will be linked forever to his and Hogan’s names — for their inaction rather than actions.
Adamec knew that his ordination as a bishop didn’t make him infallible, but that didn’t excuse him from being a leader at addressing a despicable situation that was destined — rightly — not to remain under wraps forever.
By trying to protect the Catholic Church from the logical fallout that he knew would be forthcoming if the abuse ever became public knowledge, he exacerbated the negative fallout instead.
An article in last Sunday’s Mirror reported a quote indicating that in death Adamec “is only facing one judge.”
For believers in God and an afterlife, that is the accepted assumption.
However, those who believe that God ultimately is forgiving are left wondering nevertheless what reconciliation the Creator might have chosen for members of the clergy responsible for so much harm to so many young people — and even to some adults.
It is reasonable to ponder how many young people who might have pursued priestly or other religious vocations ended up turning away, because of the abuse and mental torment they endured at the hands of priests in whom they once had placed their full trust and respect.
Recent days have proven that many Altoona-Johnstown parishioners still hold high regard for Adamec, while acknowledging his human imperfections and his greatest failure. Still, he was put in a position of trust to rise above those imperfections and to avoid failures, but he fell short miserably.
Adamec left behind positive accomplishments for which he will be remembered fondly, such as developing a “permanent diaconate,” creating a youth ministry office, unifying the liturgy in the diocese’s parishes and establishing a lay ministry initiative.
He also addressed a worsening shortage of priests by closing, consolidating and clustering parishes, although that action was met initially with resistance.
Unfortunately, recollections of those things are destined to take a back seat to the sickening atrocities young people endured at the hands of certain priests, and Adamec’s failure to take bold steps to halt the abuse.
Adamec was a human being subject to human failures, but he could — and should — have done better.