By Matthew Wojtechko
The Archabbey’s release of a list of twelve Benedictines alleged of sexual abuse spurred the Archabbey to rename Alcuin Hall to the Student Activities Center last week, due to the building’s former namesake appearing on the list.
According to Kimberly Metzgar, director of public relations for the Archabbey, the name was not changed sooner after the namesake’s 1995 allegation due to confusion concerning whom the building was named after.
The list was released on the Archabbey website within a few days of the publication of the statewide grand jury investigation into Catholic Church clergy child sexual abuse, which lists three other alleged Benedictine abusers.
The Archabbey released the twelve names voluntarily and without first being requested, Metzgar said, and they were not listed in the grand jury report since the dioceses they belonged to were not part of the investigation.
This is the first time all twelve names were released in one report, Metzgar noted, although the Archabbey has “recognized these names in past instances accordingly.”
Metzgar, explaining what the Archabbey’s notice meant when it said the abbey had received “credible allegations” against the 12 priests, said the threshold for an allegation to be considered credible is intentionally low since the main goal is to offer support and is “much different” than the standard in a civil or criminal case.
“Since these allegations are decades old, and the accused is often deceased, we have adopted the position of accepting a specific allegation if it was circumstantially plausible and if counselling services could be beneficial to the individual making it,” she said.
One of the alleged, Alcuin Tasch, Alcuin Hall’s former namesake, was listed in 1995 as being alleged of abusing “multiple individuals between 1950 and 1963.”
Metzgar explained that most people instead assumed the building was named after Blessed Alcuin, a Benedictine known for his scholarly work and mentorship of the eighth century king Charlemagne.
This understanding was supported by a campus walking tour booklet from a few years ago which noted the building’s namesake to be Blessed Alcuin, Metzgar stated. However, after Tasch was named in the Archabbey’s notice, Archabbey personnel consulted Jerome Oetgen’s 2000 book concerning the history of the Saint Vincent Archabbey.
It indicated the building was actually named after Tasch.
“So of course, at that point, we decided to rename the building,” Metzgar said.
Alcuin Hall was built and named after Tasch in 1964, Metzgar said in a TribLive article.
Tasch, along with seven other Benedictines on the list, passed away before the allegations were made to the Archabbey, according to the notice. The other four, the notice indicates, were removed from ministry at the time of their allegations.
“We respond immediately to any report of abuse,” Metzgar said.
The media notice says the Archabbey’s policy is to immediately report any allegation of sexual abuse of minors to the appropriate district attorney and to cooperate in any follow-up investigations. It also says the Archabbey adheres to the 2002 United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, has an independent review board to investigate and document all alleged child abuse and has been repeatedly accredited by the anti-sexual abuse accreditation body Praesidium since 2008.
Metzgar noted that the Archabbey pays for and arranges counselling for victims and their families and removes the accused from ministry immediately.
The Archabbey’s notice shows that five of the alleged abuses were with minors. It also indicates all the abuses occurred between 1942 and 1985, while the allegations were made between 1993 and 2018.
The policy for dealing with this, Metzgar stated, has been in place since 1991.
“We vigorously enforce it,” she said.
Alcuin Hall’s renaming was reported by the TribLive website on Sept. 18; however, it was not specifically notified to Saint Vincent students, Metzgar said.
Edward Kunz, Auerelius Hall Representative, believes most students would have preferred such an official announcement, rather than the news “spreading by word-of-mouth.”
“As people are finding out, I honestly think it’s pretty shocking,” he said. “Not only did we have this problem occur at Saint Vincent, but we actually had a building named after one of the names listed.”
Kunz said despite the lack of an official announcement, the renaming was “definitely the right choice.”
Alex Rosa, junior politics and philosophy major, learned of the renaming after seeing the TribLive article on Facebook. While he views the renaming as “an important step in the healing process,” he also saw problems.
“I find it distasteful that it should have been this long after the [Archabbey media notice] was released that it was renamed,” he said.
Rosa also believes the new name, “Student Activities Center,” is inaccurate since most students, other than football team members, only use it for special events. He hopes it will later be renamed, perhaps after a Benedictine saint or Archabbey priest.
Rosa, who explained he has been actively discerning a call to the priesthood since eighth grade, said that while the alleged sexual abuse from Saint Vincent monks is a “grievous wound and stain on our great institution,” the Archabbey’s media notice is a sign it is committed to moving forward.
“I find it important to attend a college and discern a vocation with an abbey and religious community that is transparent about what has taken place in the past,” he said.
In addition to the Archabbey’s notice, Rosa was saddened by the grand jury report and angered by its reported child abuse and cover ups.
“I cannot but help feeling greatly mistrusting of many bishops because I am not sure if they will actually do their jobs,” Rosa said.
He emphasized, however, that this will not stop him from being Catholic.
“I am not Catholic because of any one priest or bishop, but I am Catholic because of Jesus Christ and his mercy to me,” he said.
The fortieth statewide investigating grand jury was initiated in January 2016, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and was continued by Attorney General Josh Shapiro in January 2017.
The resulting report was released on Aug. 14 this year.
It can be found at attorneygeneral.gov/report, which also links to a 469-page document of responses from bishops and other leaders of the six dioceses the jury investigated: Erie, Scranton, Pittsburg, Harrisburg, Allentown, and Greensburg.
The report said grand jury members heard testimonies from dozens of witnesses and subpoenaed and reviewed half a million pages of internal diocesan documents.
These contained credible allegations of over 300 priests and helped identify over one thousand child victims, the report says, positing that the complete number of child victims is likely in the thousands.
The report is 887 pages.
“We know it is very long,” the report says. “But the only way to fix these problems is to appreciate their scope.”
The report has five sections: an introduction, a 239-page address on each diocese, an analysis on how the Church has handled abuse over time, recommendations for legal changes and a 573-page “appendix of offenders.”
“While each church district had its idiosyncrasies, the pattern was pretty much the same,” the report said. “The main thing was not to help children, but to avoid ‘scandal.’”
To analyze what the jury members considered mishandling of abuse in the six dioceses, the report included “case studies.”
For example, it gave a 13-page description about Edmond Parrakow: a New York priest who was evidenced by Church documents of admitting, in a Church-run treatment facility in New Mexico, to molesting about 35 minors, the same year he was accepted into the Greensburg diocese, and 19 years before his removal from ministry in 2004, according to the report.
The report also listed seven repeating factors in diocesan response to child abuse complaints before 2002, which the report said was identified by FBI assigned agents.
These repeating factors were the use of ambiguous language when describing assaults, deficient investigations, church-run facilities that downplayed offenders’ conduct, failure to publicly disclose criminal sexual conduct, financially supporting abusive priests, reassigning abusive priests and insufficient reports to law enforcement.
The weekend following the report’s release, Metzgar said, the Bishop of Greensburg Edward Malesic instructed all parishes in the diocese to relay a message from him.
“In the name of the entire Catholic Church, I apologize to you [victims] for those men who stole your childhood innocence,” Malesic said in the message, “and in some cases, robbed you of your faith.”
Malesic said he can understand victims’ anger at bishops, perhaps even at himself.
“You deserved much better from us,” he said. “I promise to do my best to continue to be sure that it will never happen again.”
Malesic said the Greensburg diocese has evolved beyond the Church from “30, 50, even more than 70 years ago” which the grand jury report described.
“It falls far short of describing the Church we love and support,” he said.
The Archabbey’s notice said that it fully supports Malesic’s response.
Rosa also said much positive change has taken place in the Church since the times documented in the grand jury report. He emphasized, though, that action is still needed.
“Nothing will change in the Catholic Church if a new generation of faithful, on-fire Catholics do not take up the call that God is putting in their hearts to enter religious life,” he said. “The time is now for revival in the Church.”