Bishop John Barres at the last graduation ceremony for McGann-Mercy High School on June 6. File photo: Denise Civiletti

The Diocese of Rockville Centre said in a written statement posted on its website that the Pennsylvania grand jury report issued Tuesday
contained factually incorrect statements about Bishop John Barres, who who was the Bishop of Allentown, Pennsylvania prior to being installed in Rockville Centre.

Criticism of Barres’ handling of a priest who had confessed to molesting a 12-year-old boy was unfounded, the diocese said. See prior story.

“Unfortunately, the authors of the Report appear not to have understood the material they were quoting, and their criticism of Bishop Barres was factually mistaken,” the diocese said in a statement.

The report said Barres, who became Bishop of Allentown in 2009, many years after the priest, Michael Lawrence, is alleged to have molested a second boy in the diocese, failed to disclose to the Vatican Lawrence’s prior confession.

“Bishop Barres reported everything to the Holy See,” the diocese said.

“There was no cover up; nothing was hidden from the Holy See as the Report incorrectly implies.”

The priest was not simply retired, the diocese said. He was sent to “a secure (and well-supervised) facility for sex offenders where he could do no more harm,” according to the statement. Barres had decided that was a better alternative than removing Lawrence from the clerical state which would mean releasing him without supervision.

“Bishop Barres stands by that decision. Keeping Lawrence in that facility was more important than removing him from the clerical state,” the statement said.

The bishop’s legal counsel will write to the Pennsylvania attorney general’s office to ask that the report be corrected “on these, and other, points,” the diocese said. The letter will be posted to the diocesan website after it has been sent, according to the statement. See full statement

The report issued Tuesday describes a wide-ranging, far-reaching cover-up allegedly perpetrated by church leadership in Pennsylvania over a period of seven decades, during which, the report says, clergy members sexually abused 1,000 children and youth. 

The grand jury found that Diocese of Allentown administrators, including the bishops, had knowledge of clergy sexual abuse and nonetheless continued to place accused abusers in ministry positions. The diocese made secret settlements with victims that required their silence, according to the grand jury report. Diocese administrators, including the bishops, “often dissuaded victims from reporting to police or conducted their own, deficient investigations without reporting crimes against children to the proper authorities,” the report states.

Barres is one of six bishops of the Diocese of Allentown named in the grand jury report, covering the period from 1961 to the present day.

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