State House Sound Bites

Capitol reporter Mary Wilson covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.

Grand jury: Altoona-Johnstown diocese hid sexual abuse of children (updated)

Written by Mary Wilson, Capitol Bureau Chief | Mar 1, 2016 1:40 PM
Altoona abuse 2003_AP.Keith Srakocic.jpg

In 2003, Brian Gergely, 33, right, and Kevin Hoover, 30, held up childhood photos of themselves taken around the time they say they were abused by a Roman Catholic priest. The men, along with three others, sued the Altoona-Johnstown diocese and former bishops Joseph Adamec and Joseph Hogan, claiming the church should have known about the abuse and was negligent. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

A statewide grand jury has found that the Roman Catholic Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown concealed the sexual abuse of hundreds of children at the hands of priests and religious leaders for decades, giving known child molesters the chance to prey on additional victims.

In a report released by the state attorney general's office Tuesday, the grand jury indicated two former bishops, the late James Hogan and retired bishop Joseph Adamec, as being "at the forefront" of a cover-up of abuse allegations.

The grand jury says the crimes discovered cannot be prosecuted due to a combination of factors: the alleged abusers have died, the statute of limitations for the sexual abuse crimes has expired, and victims are unable to testify. As a result, the grand jury is calling for state lawmakers to scrub the statute of limitations on child sex abuse offenses and to suspend the statute of limitations for civil sexual abuse claims.

State attorney General Kathleen Kane announced the grand jury's findings at a press conference in Altoona, describing in at times graphic detail the instances of child abuse by diocesan clergy.

"It's important that the victims' stories are heard because it's important for the horror that they felt for us to feel," said Kane. "It's an important that we have an anger and an outrage of what has occurred."

The Associated Press reports Adamec's attorney says the accusations against him are unfounded. A spokesman for the Altoona-Johnstown diocese says its current bishop, Mark Bartchak, is still reviewing the grand jury's findings.

None of the clergy accused of abuse remain in active ministry, and the grand jury has qualified praise for Bartchak for removing accused child molesters.

"The grand jury is concerned with the purge of predators and how long it's taking," said Kane. "But Bishop Bartchak explained that he's attempted to prioritize his review of diocese materials and remove active or current priests."

The attorney general's office says they have not closed their investigation into the eight-county central Pennsylvania diocese, which has been wracked by child sexual abuse civil lawsuits since at least the 1980s. In 2002, then-Bishop Adamec created a diocesan panel to examine sexual abuse complaints against priests. The years that followed were marked by at least three suicides of clergy under internal investigation for alleged sexual misconduct with minors.

The grand jury found that clergy members accused of abuse were reassigned or sent to temporary "so-called treatment" by diocesan leaders to avoid criminal investigation and scrutiny. The report states that a 69-year-old priest, Martin Cingle, remained in the diocese until last year despite having allegedly groped a boy in 1979. It was the state attorney general's office which insisted that he be removed.

In a separate case, one diocese priest, 70-year-old Joseph Maurizio, was found guilty last September in federal court for sexually assaulting three Honduran boys over a 10-year span while conducting charity work in Honduras. He is scheduled to be sentenced on Wednesday.

Published in State House Sound Bites

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