NOEL KING, HOST:
Here in the U.S., the Catholic Church has been in turmoil. In Pennsylvania, a grand jury report released this summer laid out decades of misconduct and cover-ups. More than 300 priests across the state were implicated. Despite all of this, some parishioners worry the church isn't taking the issue seriously enough. Virginia Alvino Young from member station WESA in Pittsburgh has the story.
VIRGINIA ALVINO YOUNG, BYLINE: At her brick home in a suburb outside of Pittsburgh, Stephanie Pennock entertains her youngest son while her older two boys are at school.
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Where's the Batman one?
STEPHANIE PENNOCK: Where's Batman?
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Yeah.
YOUNG: Growing up in Erie, Pa., Pennock attended Catholic grade school, Catholic high school and mass every week.
PENNOCK: There was a series of priests that we went through very quickly. It was kind of - there were rumors about what actually happened. Nothing ever much came to light about that.
YOUNG: When the grand jury report came out in August, Pennock saw some familiar names in the details. One of her childhood pastors and a deacon who taught at her school both faced accusations of sexual misconduct.
PENNOCK: That was the moment that I said, you know what? Enough is enough, and I cannot be part of it. I cannot ever put money in collection basket again. I just cannot be part of this anymore. I just walked away from it. And I don't feel like I can ever go back to it.
YOUNG: Mass attendance across the Pittsburgh diocese is declining. While Bishop David Zubik doesn't face any accusations of abuse himself, he's named hundreds of times in the grand jury report. It alleges he played a role in relocating so-called predator priests to other parishes.
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DAVID ZUBIK: As I have said many times from my heart, the protection of children and the healing of victims truly is the priority of the Diocese of Pittsburgh.
YOUNG: At a press conference this month, Zubik announced that the diocese was voluntarily instituting a compensation fund to pay settlements to victims of clergy sexual assault.
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ZUBIK: We have continually sought to strengthen and improve our policies over the course of the last 30 years. This effort will never be finished until the scourge of child sexual abuse is eradicated from our society.
TERRY MCKIERNAN: They didn't want that history to be examined.
YOUNG: Terry McKiernan says apologies, payouts and prevention efforts aren't enough. He's the founder of bishopaccountability.org and says leaders across the Catholic Church have hoped for years that the sexual abuse scandal would be considered a thing of the past.
MCKIERNAN: They wanted it to be left in the archives and forgotten. What they learned in Pennsylvania this year is that that's not going to happen.
YOUNG: After the Boston abuse scandal in 2002, the Vatican approved a zero-tolerance policy for clergy who abuse children. But McKiernan says there still aren't any mechanisms in place to hold accountable bishops or those who cover up abuse. They report directly to the pope. U.S. bishops were expecting to vote on new accountability measures at a gathering in November, but the pope ordered the effort to be delayed until February. Either way, McKiernan is skeptical of internal accountability efforts. He's pushing for more external pressure, like the investigation and report by the Illinois attorney general this month detailing allegations against 500 priests the church had failed to disclose earlier.
MCKIERNAN: We're seeing forces outside the church compelling and really shaming the church into behaving accountably and behaving at least somewhat transparently.
YOUNG: Despite the scandal, pews across the U.S. aren't empty. Pittsburgh-area resident Alicia Davin continues to attend mass, despite her criticism of the church's actions. The 37-year-old says she's disturbed by recent revelations but that guilty individuals don't have power over her faith or her worship.
ALICIA DAVIN: For me, like, discontinuing going to church is not going to help me find the justice and help me figure out what can be done.
YOUNG: She says for the church to move forward, it's important to clean house, including Bishop Zubik.
DAVIN: It has become pretty evident over now the past couple of months that he should probably resign and step down.
YOUNG: Davin says she's more skeptical than optimistic that anything significant will come from the worldwide gathering of Catholic leadership at the Vatican in February.
DAVIN: There's recognition, I believe. Something has to happen or there's going to be more to reckon with. Something has to be said. Something has to be done. Something has to come from the pope. So is that what's going to happen in February? Let's see.
YOUNG: Davin says another fumbled response could plunge the church into an even deeper crisis. For NPR News, I'm Virginia Alvino Young in Pittsburgh.
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