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Clergy Abuse Survivors Share Stories At Emotional First Listening Session

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PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- Survivors and parishioners came out to St. Paul Cathedral in Oakland on Thursday night for the first of four listening sessions since the release of the Pennsylvania grand jury report on clergy sexual abuse.

Similar sessions are already being held in in the Greensburg Catholic Diocese.

But organizers in the Pittsburgh Catholic Diocese are hoping to create a safe space so everyone can work through the healing process together.

(Photo Credit: KDKA)

Bishop David Zubik sat at the altar listening as one-by-one the faithful stood before him to share their pain and anger over the scandal.

"I was overcome with emotion. I spoke all across the state and didn't have this problem until tonight, but I felt a sense of community that I haven't felt for a long time," said Jim VanSickle, a survivor of clergy abuse.

Nancy Pieffer, another survivor who became a social worker and advocate for rape victims, spoke for the first time publicly at the session. There was not a dry eye as she recounted the horror of her abuse as a child at the hands of a priest.

"I'm sure as I hold this experience, I will just feel the depth and the breadth of people standing for me," said Pieffer.

KDKA's Andy Sheehan Reports:



Many called for Bishop Zubik's resignation, and others asked for complete transparency, in not only church documents, but in collections and how other diocesan monies are being spend.

"To be honest with you, some of the people who are victims and survivors, I've met with them as well too, and I've heard their input," said Bishop Zubik. "But it's just admirable to hear them speak to everyone in a crowd as large as this one."

VanSickle and Pieffer embraced outside the cathedral, and while they do feel the necessary healing has begun to take place, they say it's only the beginning.

"I think the church will survive. My belief is that the people within it, that have been running it, won't," said VanSickle.

There are three more listening sessions planned in the Pittsburgh Catholic Diocese. They are on Dec. 3 at St. Thomas A' Becket Church in Jefferson Hills, on Dec. 4 at Our Lady of Fatima Church in Hopewell Township, and on Dec. 6 St. Ferdinand Church in Cranberry Township.

The bishop said he's also working on a letter that will detail the input from the listening sessions, and offer an action plan on how the church can move forward.

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