Tobin: Church leaders handled abuse crisis ‘very poorly’

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — In the wake of a grand jury report that alleges decades of sexual abuse among Roman Catholic priests in Pennsylvania, Providence Bishop Thomas Tobin says he doesn’t believe the church has lost its moral compass but admits some of its leaders mishandled the situation over the years.

“The church has many fine leaders,” Tobin said, speaking exclusively with Eyewitness News. “Obviously, our bishops have made mistakes and handled this abuse crisis very poorly to the detriment of the victims, families and the whole church.”

The report released earlier this month indicated that 300 priests sexually abused approximately 1,000 children over a 70-year period. The investigation covered six Pennsylvania dioceses including Pittsburgh, where Tobin served as auxiliary bishop from 1992 to 1996.

Tobin was not named in the report, and he said the claims were out of the scope of his responsibility.

“My office was not directly involved in or responsible in dealing with clergy issues, whether it’s assignments of priests or clergy misconduct,” Tobin explained. “That was not part of the responsibility the bishop asked me to undertake.”

“The reports were given to the diocese, and the diocese was dealing with them through the bishop’s office, communications, clergy office,” he added. “They were being dealt with but they weren’t being dealt by me personally, because I wasn’t authorized to do that. That does not mean I wasn’t aware of them, sensitive to them, after the fact.”

Tobin previously said Pittsburgh was one of the country’s leading dioceses when it came to being transparent in responding to claims of sexual abuse. When asked about it this week, he noted that many of the allegations date back long before his time.

“I have no doubt over the 70-year history of reporting in the Diocese of Pittsburgh there were terrible mistakes made, things were not handled properly, priests were moved around,” he said. “But we’re dealing with things from the 1940s, 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. I think the church in Pittsburgh today, in Providence, and across the country is very different now than it was throughout its history because of increased scrutiny.”

Tobin said he believes some people have lost their faith in religious leaders. He also said he is concerned for the welfare of the Catholic Church, citing an open letter penned this week by a former high-ranking papal nuncio calling for Pope Francis to resign.

“It’s unprecedented to ask the pope to resign and to level these charges against him … and it’s unprecedented now, we see the outbreak of basically civil war within the church,” Tobin explained. “Bishops saying one thing about other bishops and cardinals, bishops accusing cardinals of lying. It’s a new and very depressing and dangerous ground for us. I don’t know where it’s going to go.”

Tobin plans to preside over a “special day of prayer and penance” and take part in a 24-hour fast on Sept. 14 to “to acknowledge and condemn, with sorrow and shame, the atrocities perpetrated by consecrated persons.”

When asked if he plans to resign amid the scandals, Tobin said he has no reason to.

“Why would I do that?” he said. “Again, I think I responded to these incidents very responsibly and very transparently. But I serve at the discretion of the pope. If he ever wanted me to resign, I would go in a heartbeat.”

WATCH: Extended interview with Bishop Thomas Tobin

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