Panel of experts address Clergy Days participants: sexual abuse laws, financial reporting, legal issues among presentations

Clergy from all corners of the Archeparchy of Pittsburgh once again converged at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Munhall, Pa. for Presbyteral (Clergy) Days. Held Tuesday May 31 and Wednesday June 1, the annual Spring meeting brings together parish pastors, administrators, deacons and retired priests for the dissemination of information, group discussion, and collegial fellowship essential to pastoral life.

Communications Director for the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference (PCC), Amy B. Hill was the first speaker of the 2016 Clergy Days convocation. She covered the very sensitive and emotionally charged topic of child sexual abuse and shared information regarding the Statute of Limitations (SoL) on reporting abuse in Pennsylvania (House Bill 1947). Hill emphasized that the Catholic Church is not at all opposed to accepting responsibility for abuse that happened in the past. “This is not a debate between the Church and survivors of abuse,” she said, adding that in actuality it is about priests, churches, parishioners being held responsible for paying hefty, financially devastating judgments resulting from lawsuits. “The bottom line here is not the money – it is that children were hurt. We agree that if a child was hurt, then the perpetrators must be brought to justice,” Hill reasoned. “However, is the money settlement really going to make the issue any better when it bankrupts entire faith communities?”

Continuing the child abuse laws and reporting discussion was Attorney Cathy Chromulak, Legal Counsel for the Archeparchy of Pittsburgh. Regarding the extension of the SoL, she said, “Literally you can be facing claims dealing with ghosts. They may be claims with no foundation.” Chromulak pointed out that it is a widely-held belief that the Catholic Church has a LOT of money, and that some attorneys are “clothing themselves as advocates for survivors, when in reality they will file a claim on behalf of an alleged abuse survivor for the potential profit. This creates a lucrative cottage industry for the attack of the Catholic Church.” The attorney continued her presentation, explaining how the law applies to the Archeparchy and what our responsibilities are in regards to mandatory reporting. “How fast do you have to make a report of abuse? Immediately! Then after you make the report, you are to notify any superiors.” Chromulak advised, “You may hear something from a 3rd party – but you HAVE to report it. Report it and then let the authorities carry out their investigation.”

A further topic Attorney Chromulak engaged late in her presentation and on the following day of the meetings was the current movement of investigating parish finances and taking legal actions against charitable organizations to ensure that the funds are being used properly: namely, are funds being used to further the mission of the church, or are they being used for personal reasons?

Very Rev. Lawrence DiNardo, a priest of the Diocese of Pittsburgh (Latin Catholic) and Vicar General/General Secretary for their Pastoral Center, continued the financial responsibility topic on day two of the clergy convocation. “The next scandal of the church is a financial one. We have already gone thru the sex scandal. Now the next issue is, are pastors using the resources given to them in a proper way?” Father Larry drew a few chuckles and head-nods during his “Pastors’ Responsibility and Accountability” talk, presented in his trademark relaxed and engaging style. “We don’t necessarily like to comply with everything that is asked of us. Paying diocesan assessments. Keeping records. A parish is simply not an island unto itself. Many priests, and people envision this as true. They’re always complaining about parish share, about insurance … Every year people complain, and every year I give the same speech: We are just ONE little segment of the Church – the global Church!” He concluded his informative and thought-provoking presentation by affirming, “We are all doing the same thing – which is ultimately bringing people to the kingdom of God.” In her follow-up address to the clergy regarding the financial accountability and responsibility points brought to light by Father Larry, Attorney Chromulak concluded that “the bottom line is that these scrutinizing times are not just ahead of us or on the horizon – they are HERE.”

In the final segments of the Clergy Days schedule, Bert Reiman and Ann Dicks of Eastern Catholic Benefits gave up-to-date information regarding healthcare, health plans and benefits. Louis Loparo and Jerry Lucas of the Hobe Lucas accounting group addressed computer security and internal controls/ procedures, particularly retention schedules, respectively. Archieparchial Finance Officer Gregory Popivchak and Protosyncellus Very Rev. Andrew Deskevich followed the Hobe Lucas presenters, giving over- views of parish finances recording and reporting. “It seems as if the themes running thru this entire conference have been three things,” Popivchak announced: “Accountability, transparency, and fiscal responsibility.”

The pair segued to the next pair of presenters, Attorneys George Janocsko and Theodore Trbovich, whose factual and informative subject matter centered on personnel files, wills, power of attorney and end-of-life issues. The final component of Clergy Days 2016 was a Safe Environment workshop presentation for all clergy who had not yet attended. Deacon Raymond Zadzilko was the facilitator for the hour-long session. In addition to the customary and necessary presentations associated with Presbyteral Days, clergy also gathered in their presbytery (deanery) groups to discuss pertinent issues.

Formally introduced to their now-fellow priests of the Archeparchy were the newest priests from the Eparchy of Mukachevo (in western Ukraine). Fathers Vasyl Banyk, Oleh Seremchuk, and Mykhaylo Shkyndya join their three colleagues – Fathers Mykhaylo Farynets, Vasyl Polyak and Vasyl Symyon, who have been serving the Archeparchy in several parishes for the past two years. The priests and deacons also assembled for prayer several times daily and enjoyed meals together.

The social highlight on the first evening of the two-day affair was a special dinner at the Cathedral Center in honor of the 60th birthday of Metropolitan Archbishop William, who was most appreciative of the celebratory gesture and also was pleased with the attendance turnout for the annual clerics’ gathering.