Jerry Corrento is a Catholic of contradictions.
The 63-year-old great-grandfather serves as a lector and eucharistic minister at St. Timothy's in Mayfair, but he would be an odd choice to collect the offering. He'll gladly help his parish fix the roof but is rescinding an $1,800 pledge to the Philadelphia Archdiocese's $200 million "Heritage of Faith - Vision of Hope" campaign until Cardinal Justin Rigali resigns and the church pays for crimes against children.
Corrento also serves on the parish evangelization committee, but he never asks why folks stray. He knows. Some Sundays, he can't even believe he's back.
An orphan raised in part at St. Joseph's House for Homeless Industrious Boys, Corrento abandoned his "smothering" faith after graduating from Roman Catholic High School.
He fought in Vietnam, fathered seven children, and worked for the state, helping veterans find jobs until - at his third wife's urging - he tiptoed back to church at age 55.
"I had only been going to Mass again for a couple weeks before I got subpoenaed for the grand jury."
He speaks of the 2003-05 grand jury that issued a 418-page report that said the archdiocese protected pedophiles who sexually abused hundreds of children.
"You know the part that says 'We would have indicted them if we could'?" Corrento asked at lunch last week at a buffet in Suburban Station. "Those were my words. I yelled them out. It's a disgrace we couldn't do more. We knew this scandal would not go away."
Heartbreaking civic duty
Grand juries are mysterious by design. They meet in secret twice a week for up to two years, and jurors earn just $25 a day for their service.
Corrento's wife razzed him about getting to miss work, oblivious to the fact that he spent hours sitting on an uncomfortable folding chair, ingesting perversion, brutality, and shame in the name of civic duty.
"These are regular citizens who make an extraordinary sacrifice and are truly dedicated to the rule of law," said Common Pleas Court Judge Renee Cardwell Hughes, who oversaw the 2009-11 grand jury whose findings led to the arrest of a former Catholic-school teacher, three priests, and a monsignor on charges of rape and child endangerment.
What few know is that the grand jurors in 2009-11 endured nightmarish testimony on two cases rocking the region: pedophile priests and West Philadelphia abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, charged with the murder of one female patient and seven live babies whose spines were allegedly severed with scissors.
I've yet to hear from any of those grand jurors, but Corrento reached out last week needing to vent.
"The experience cut to my core," he shares. "Grown men would break down crying 10 minutes after we'd been talking about the Phillies."
Week after week, he took his torment to Mass, where "I'd sit in the back and just pray I was doing the right thing."
Looking for a legal assist
Corrento cheers the recent arrests, but chides Rigali for not stepping down and begs legislators to stand up to church lobbyists so that child sex-abuse victims can have their day in court.
"Nothing will change unless the laws change," he says. "The state is complicit as far as I'm concerned. Legislators must protect children and the only word the church understands is money."
So Corrento would bankrupt the archdiocese to heal it? Not exactly.
"They won't go broke," he contends. "They'll recoup the money by selling off more assets. Do you know what they own?"
Catholics from across the region tell me they pray for the day when a chastened church stops asking for their money and trust without giving the lay faithful respect and reform in return. Corrento seeks nothing less each week when he slides into the pew.
"I don't know why I still go, but I go," he says. "Even now, it's the only little bit of sanctuary I have."