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Catholics defend today's church in wake of priest sexual abuse report

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Parishioners at St. Pius X in Mt. Pleasant, a parish led by a succession of predator priests in the 1980s, on Wednesday said they hope the Catholic church can finally get past its clergy sexual abuse scandal.
“It’s over. A lot of it’s been way in the past,” said longtime parishioner Larry Niezgoda, 57, of Mt. Pleasant. “We have to keep going and keep praying.”
Niezgoda smoked a cigarette while waiting for an early morning Mass to start for the feast of the Assumption.
Catholics and Orthodox Christians celebrate Aug. 15 as the day when the Virgin Mary, according to tradition, was assumed bodily into heaven upon her death.
The holy day of obligation fell a day after the 40th Statewide Investigating Grand Jury issued an explosive report naming 301 “predator priests,” including 20 from the Greensburg diocese and 99 from the Pittsburgh diocese.
Most of the priests are deceased or have been removed from ministry.
Parishioners interviewed outside St. Pius X were mostly sanguine about the scandal, saying that it does not reflect the reality of the church today.
“I think they are going to take steps to correct it,” said Rose Marie Pisula of Mt. Pleasant. “They’re doing the right things now by getting those priests out of there.”
But Pisula, who normally attends Visitation Parish in Mt. Pleasant, expressed “shock” at the number of names in the grand jury report. She saw one name that did not surprise her, but she declined to name the priest.
“I never expected to see that many names,” said Pisula, who attends Mass daily and insists her Catholic faith remains strong.
A former altar boy, Niezgoda likewise said his faith has not been shaken by the recent revelations.
“It doesn’t change my views at all. My beliefs are with God and Jesus, not with man,” he said. “The important thing is that the church is trying to move forward.”
Niezgoda said his belief in God helps him keep things in perspective.
“People are human. We all have our faults, even priests and bishops,” he said. “The devil works on everybody.”
Robert Sandzimier, 77, of Mt. Pleasant said some people may leave the church, but “I still have my faith.”
Sandzimier said he didn’t read the grand jury report but watched some of the news coverage.
“It’s a little shocking,” he said. “Things happen. I’m sure it happens in other churches and organizations, but for some reason they concentrate more on the Catholic church. Some are out to destroy the church.”
A woman, who declined to be interviewed, had one word for the scandal: “Disgusting.”
Of the 20 Greensburg diocese priests identified in the grand jury report, three had a history with St. Pius X — the Revs. Henry J. Marcinek (1982-85), Robert Moslener (1985-86) and Edmond A. Parrakow (1986-89, parochial vicar).
A fourth, the Rev. James W. Clark, served there as parochial vicar in 1989-90. He was not named in the report because his suspension by the diocese in June happened after the grand jury had concluded its work. The allegation against Clark pre-dates his time as a priest.
The report notes that Marcinek, now deceased, carried on a sexually abusive relationship with a boy for about 10 years, from 1972 until the early 1980s. The boy was a student at Holy Rosary School in Republic, Fayette County, at the time. Marcinek lavished his victim with gifts and trips, according to the report.
Allegations of sexual abuse were levied against Moslener by several school children and North Huntingdon police in 1986 — one of two years he served at St. Pius X, according to the report.
Moslener, 73, of Pittsburgh served six parishes in 11 years in the 1970s and ’80s. He continued to serve in the Greensburg diocese until his removal from ministry in 2002.
The report identifies St. Pius X as Parrakow’s first formal assignment in the Greensburg diocese in 1986. Prior to coming to Greensburg, Parrakow was treated at a center for priests accused of child sexual abuse. The center’s director recommended that Parrakow not be assigned to a parish with a school, according to the report.
Parrakow had previously acknowledged to treatment staff that he molested 35 boys over 17 years in New York.
St. Pius X was Parrakow’s only full-time assignment within the Greensburg diocese, according to the report. In 1989, the year he left the parish, the diocese received a complaint regarding “inappropriate contact” with a seventh-grader at Holy Trinity Catholic School in Mt. Pleasant.
The boy, identified in the report as “Victim Two,” named a third victim who was an altar boy at St. Pius X while Parrakow served there. The third victim, who was interviewed by special agents in May 2017, said he stopped being an altar boy because of Parrakow.
“Victim Three reported that, while he was an altar boy, Father Ed … told the altar boys not to wear any clothing under their cassocks because God did not want any man-made clothes to be worn next to their skin while they were serving Mass,” the report said.
“Victim Three also reported that Parrakow took the altar boys into a private room and told them he had to do a physical examination on them because there had been a report of abuse at the school,” the report said. “Parrakow told the boys he was checking them for any signs of abuse and further stated that the school did not want this to be common knowledge because they might never find out which student was being abused.”
The report quoted “Victim Three” as saying that Parrakow would touch the children “all over” during the “examinations,” including the genitals and buttocks.
Parrakow, 78, of Hempfield was relieved of his assignment by then-Bishop Anthony G. Bosco in February 1989. He was laicized in 2004. He declined to comment when contacted by the Tribune-Review.
On Wednesday, the Rev. Richard J. Kosisko, the current pastor of St. Pius X, made oblique references to the scandal in his homily on the Assumption of Mary.
“We need Mary’s intercession in times of great trial, in times of great weakness,” he said, noting that Mary interceded for Jesus’ disciples when they abandoned him.
In the litany after the Nicene Creed, parishioners included in their petitions the victims of sexual abuse in the church, that they would receive healing.
Wednesday’s Gospel reading included a passage from Luke that quotes from the Magnificat:
“He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.”
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