Category Archives: Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown

US prosecutor may seek racketeering suit in Pa. clergy abuse


US prosecutor may seek racketeering suit in Pa. clergy abuse

ASSOCIATED PRESS  APRIL 03, 2016

US Attorney David Hickton may file a racketeering lawsuit against a western Pennsylvania Roman Catholic diocese where a state grand jury found two former bishops helped cover up the sexual abuse of hundreds of children by more than 50 clergy over a 40-year period.

US Attorney David Hickton may file a racketeering lawsuit against a western Pennsylvania Roman Catholic diocese where a state grand jury found two former bishops helped cover up the sexual abuse of hundreds of children by more than 50 clergy over a 40-year period.

PITTSBURGH — A federal prosecutor may file a racketeering lawsuit against a Roman Catholic diocese where a state grand jury found two former bishops helped cover up the sexual abuse of hundreds of children by more than 50 clergy over a 40-year period.

The ongoing investigation of the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese grew out of the prosecution of the Rev. Joseph Maurizio Jr., US Attorney David Hickton said Friday.

The 71-year-old Somerset County priest was convicted last year of molesting two street children during missionary trips to Honduras. He was sentenced to nearly 17 years in prison, fined $50,000, and forced to pay his victims $10,000 each.

Hickton said the ongoing investigation concerns whether diocesan officials engaged in a pattern of criminal activity that would fall under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, commonly referred to as RICO.

The statute of limitations has lapsed on criminal racketeering charges, but there is no time limit for filing a RICO civil lawsuit, Hickton said. KDKA-TV first reported that Hickton was considering such a lawsuit. A diocesan spokesman did not immediately comment.

‘‘The remedy that would be available under a civil RICO would be some sort of injunctive relief,’’ Hickton said. ‘‘If we were able to get a consent decree, that would be one route.’’

Injunctive relief, in this case, would be a court order requiring the diocese to take certain actions. A consent decree is a voluntary agreement between prosecutors and a target that certain reforms would be enacted.

A grand jury, in a report released last month, was especially critical of Bishops James Hogan and Joseph Adamec. Hogan, who headed the diocese from 1966 to 1986, died in 2005. Adamec, who succeeded him, retired in 2011.

The grand jury found Hogan, in particular, held sway over police and prosecutors in the diocese and often reassigned priests accused of molesting children instead of removing them from duty. Adamec threatened accusers with excommunication and generally worked harder to hide or settle abuse allegations than to discipline the priests accused, the grand jury found.

An attorney for Adamec denied wrongdoing and said 14 priests accused of molestation under Adamec’s watch were given psychiatric screenings. Nine were suspended or removed, and the five who were returned to ministry didn’t reoffend, Adamec’s attorney said.

Hickton won’t say what he believes church officials may have done wrong.

Kane’s report grew out of allegations that a Franciscan friar, who has since killed himself, molested dozens of students at a school in the diocese from 1992 to 2000.

Mitchell Garabedian, a Boston attorney who represented dozens of those victims, said he favors the RICO lawsuit even though many of his victims ‘‘would find incarceration for the supervisors more suitable.’’

‘‘I think the tactic is an approach that must be taken given the depth and scope of the supervisors enabling sexual abuse,’’ Garabedian said. If a consent decree is reached, ‘‘many victims would like to see a complete admission of guilt, and perhaps an independent supervisor appointed to review the activities of the diocese.’’

Bruce Antkowiak, a former federal prosecutor who now teaches law at St. Vincent College near Latrobe, said the RICO Act is used to target individuals who ‘‘operated or managed an enterprise through a pattern of racketeering activity.’’

To prove that, a prosecutor must show the target committed specific crimes listed in the act — including murder, extortion, and robbery. Mail fraud — essentially using the mail in any step of a fraud — or extortion are other RICO crimes that could conceivably relate.

According to the grand jury report, a whistle-blower accused Maurizio in 2009 of abusing the boys, and the diocese conducted its own investigation, including hiring a translator to review the victim’s claims.

Diocesan records ‘‘show a high-ranking Diocesan official concluding the alleged conduct was ‘impossible,’’’ the report said.

 

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In Wake of Pennsylvania Charges, Abuse Spotlight Falls on Religious Orders


In Wake of Pennsylvania Charges, Abuse Spotlight Falls on Religious Orders

07/22/2016

From the Link: http://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/in-wake-of-pennsylvania-charges-abuse-spotlight-falls-on-religious-orders

U.S.-based orders have undertaken widespread reforms, but criminal charges filed against three Franciscan friars for alleged supervisory failures of a known child molester indicate problems remain.

In this April 14 photo, lawyers lead Franciscans Franciscan Fathers Giles Schinelli (front) and Anthony Criscitelli to their hearing at the Blair County courthouse in Hollidaysburg, Pa. The men are charged with allowing a suspected sexual predator to teach at a Pennsylvania high school and hold other jobs where he molested more than 100 children. – Todd Berkey/The Tribune-Democrat via AP, File

In this April 14 photo, lawyers lead Franciscans Franciscan Fathers Giles Schinelli (front) and Anthony Criscitelli to their hearing at the Blair County courthouse in Hollidaysburg, Pa. The men are charged with allowing a suspected sexual predator to teach at a Pennsylvania high school and hold other jobs where he molested more than 100 children.
– Todd Berkey/The Tribune-Democrat via AP, File

Since the sex-abuse crisis entered the national discussion in 2002, the bulk of the media attention has been on how individual Catholic dioceses have responded and the steps they have taken over the years to remove abusive clergy from ministry and protect minors and vulnerable people.

But this spring, a religious order put the spotlight on fresh concerns about Church handling of sexual abuse: Criminal charges were filed in Pennsylvania against three Franciscans friars, related to their roles in supervising a brother friar who was accused of molesting more than 100 children.

Though they have not garnered the same attention as dioceses until now, religious orders in the United States say they have also implemented new policies and practices over the past 14 years to hold abusive members in their communities accountable and protect victims.

“We were completely committed to the principle that no one who has been established as an abuser will ever practice a public ministry and certainly will not be in a position to have access to children, to youth and to vulnerable people,” said Capuchin Father John Pavlik, president of the Conference of Major Superiors of Men, an association of the leadership of men in religious and apostolic institutes in the United States.

Father Pavlik told the Register that almost 90% of institutes representing approximately 17,000 men in religious life have gone through an independent accreditation process of their sexual-abuse prevention policies and practices. Father Pavlik said the institutes agree to be scrutinized by an outside firm because they want to follow the bishops’ example in protecting minors.

“The religious certainly wanted to be in the same place the bishops of the United States were when it came to promulgating safeguards that would seem to actually work to protect minors and youth and vulnerable people,” Father Pavlik said.

To perform public ministry, religious brothers, monks and priests are also required to abide by norms established by the local diocesan bishop. For example, a brother or friar who works in a parish or in other diocesan facilities must undergo the same sex-abuse prevention safety training as regular diocesan priests and lay personnel.

However, some observers note that the policies and practices, as well as the accreditation process, are still voluntary and not really enforceable, since the religious orders, including the individual provincial leaders, do not answer to each other.

“The bottom line is that they are completely independent from one another. It’s like herding cats. They all do what they want,” said Patrick Wall, a former Benedictine monk who investigates clergy sex abuse for victims and their lawyers.

Wall told the Register that he believes the orders have done a comparatively poor job of handling sex-abuse cases, and he said there is no real enforcement mechanism to ensure that provincial leaders do the right thing, apart from the civil and criminal courts.

 

The Pennsylvania Scandal

The criminal proceedings in western Pennsylvania, where the three Franciscan friars will stand trial for child endangerment and conspiracy charges, could serve as a cautionary tale.

The Pennsylvania grand jury that returned indictments against Fathers Giles Schinelli, Robert D’Aversa and Anthony Criscitelli concluded that the defendants, who headed the Third Order Regular Franciscans of the Province of the Immaculate Conception from 1986 to 2010, should have done more to protect minors from Brother Stephen Baker, who killed himself in January 2013 after he was accused of sexually abusing dozens of teens in at least three states.

Pennsylvania’s Attorney General Office — which released a scathing report earlier this year detailing decades of abuse in the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown — is prosecuting the friars. News reports indicate that federal prosecutors are also considering filing racketeering charges against the diocese.

“This is a brand-new world where you have both state and federal authorities looking at the Franciscans and looking at the diocese, both, for allowing this to happen,” Wall said.

Father Pavlik said one of the most significant facts of the Pennsylvania grand-jury investigation to emerge thus far is that the TOR Franciscans had allowed their sex-abuse prevention accreditation to lapse.

Said Father Pavlik, “Why would you allow that to lapse, especially when you had people who had committed horrible crimes? You had people who were credibly accused. What were you thinking?

“You’ve got to ask the question: Why did they stop participating? I don’t know the answer to that question.”

The TOR Franciscans of the Province of the Immaculate Conception did not return a message seeking comment. In a March 15 statement, the province said it was “deeply saddened” to learn of the criminal charges.

“The province extends its most sincere apologies to the victims and to the communities who have been harmed,” the Franciscans said in the statement. The province also encouraged prayers “for healing and understanding and for all the priests and brothers who honor their vocations and the Church.”

If there is a weakness in the accrediting system, Father Pavlik said, it is that the accrediting agency, Texas-based Praesidium Inc., does not publicly report the religious institutes that have failed to be accredited or that have let their accreditation lapse.

“It seems to me that if there is a weakness somewhere in the system, it’s here,” Father Pavlik said. “If there is something that could be improved, it’d be some effort to know who isn’t accredited.”

Accreditation Information

Christy Schiller, vice president of religious services for Praesidium, told the Register that the TOR Franciscans of the Immaculate Conception Province were accredited in 2009. The accreditation lasted for three years, and the institute allowed the accreditation to lapse in 2012.

While Praesidium does not formally publish a list of institutes that are accredited or that have let their accreditations lapse, Schiller said the firm will provide that information to anyone who inquires.

“We’re happy to share that,” she said. “We can’t give any more details about the specifics of the institute because of the confidentiality clause in our contract. But a particular group’s status: That is information we’re willing to share.”

Many of the major religious orders in the United States are forthcoming if they have been accredited by Praesidium. On their websites, several orders post information about their accreditation. For example, the Society of Jesus says each province in the United States maintains Praesidium accreditation through periodic audits by independent auditors and ongoing training for each Jesuit to establish awareness, prevention and proper responses to allegations of sexual misconduct.

Christian Brother Timothy Coldwell, general councilor of the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools, told the Register that the De La Salle Christian Brothers in the United States are also accredited by Praesidium.

“Meeting and complying to their standards of accreditation became our first and primary goal,” Brother Timothy said. “Every one of our districts (provinces) earned early accreditation, and each have maintained it to the present.”

In August 2002, the Conference of Major Superiors of Men unanimously approved the statement“Improving Pastoral Care and Accountability in Response to the Tragedy of Sexual Abuse.” That statement facilitated the framework for CMSM’s official response, which was entitled: “Instruments of Hope and Healing: Safeguarding Children and Young Adults.”

Father Pavlik said the religious orders’ leaders, including him, who gathered in August 2002, were “appalled” at the preponderance of evidence that pointed to priests and religious in the United States who had sexually abused minors over the course of several decades.

“We quickly formed relationships with some survivors,” Father Pavlik said. “When you listen to their stories, you actually become angry, upset and disturbed that people who were committed to doing good violated the innocence and goodness of vulnerable people.”

According to Praesidium, more than 130 religious institutes, representing 90% of order priests and brothers in the United States, have attained accreditation. The agency’s work has been presented to the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life at the Vatican.

While the vast majority of religious orders participate in the system, some observers point out that Church law does not compel the individual institutes to do so. Father Pavlik said he has personally appealed three times in the last five years to smaller institutes, which do not have the same financial resources as larger institutes, to become accredited. Father Pavlik said that is still no excuse for not seeking accreditation.

Said Father Pavlik, “From my point of view, you go out and creatively find a way to do this. This is the right thing to do. You have to stand with the rest of the Church.”

Areas Covered

Praesidium’s “Standards for Accreditation cover three main areas: prevention, response to abuse allegations and supervision of offenders. Prevention standards review how new members are screened, educational programs for initial and ongoing formation, systems of support and accountability and how the institute manages internal reports of potential boundary violations.

Responding standards review the institute’s response to reports of suspected abuse and the role of external review boards, while supervision standards review the management and supervision of a member who is known to have abused a minor.

Unlike U.S. dioceses, religious orders allow some members with substantiated allegations against them to remain in community, with restrictions — known as safety plans — that depend on the seriousness of the incidents and on their evaluations.

“We agreed to supervise those who were credibly accused. We set up stringent requirements for what the supervision amounts to, and every institute that agreed to do this for its members has to always be vigilant to make sure it is maintaining what it promised,” Father Pavlik said, adding that the religious orders also created an independent review board that annually reviews the safety plan. Praesidium evaluators visit the institutes to review the safety plans and speak with the supervisors and the members under supervision.

“Obviously, the people responsible have to be deeply committed to the concept that protecting children is an absolute good that cannot be compromised in any way,” Father Pavlik said. “They have to hold themselves accountable to what is required. If you do that, you will see that the statistics show we have an overwhelmingly high successful rate of preventing recidivism.”

Brother Timothy said a brother who has admitted to his offense or has had a credible accusation against him is allowed to live only in the community assigned by the provincial, or in another appropriate supervised place of residence where there is no unsupervised contact with minors or vulnerable adults.

“No separate apartment, private home or other domicile is allowed as a permanent residence for the brother offender,” said Brother Timothy, adding that communities that house a “high-risk” brother are visited by outside auditors at least once a year on an unannounced basis to ensure consistent implementation of safety-plan protocols.

“High-risk brothers will be evaluated on the basis of current empirical research,” Brother Timothy said. “The auditors will document the visits of outside auditors. Communities that are found to be out of compliance with the safety plan for a ‘high-risk’ brother will be re-visited within the next 30 days. It is understood that continued noncompliance with safety plans will result in the loss of accreditation.”

 

Concerns

But the dynamics of living in a religious community, where one’s colleague one day can be his provincial in a few years, can cut both ways, said Terry McKiernan, of BishopAccountability.org, which tracks clergy sex abuse and bishops’ handling of those cases.

Said McKiernan, “The close-knit character of religious life, where you’re all living together in community, which of course goes back to St. Benedict and beyond, is really a distinctive and important feature of religious life. It’s also in some way a distinct disadvantage when it comes to the abuse crisis. It makes it harder for the provincial to say, ‘You’re my brother, but I have to hand you over to the police.’”

McKiernan and Wall both described a decades-long pattern where religious orders, in dealing with accused abusers, would transfer alleged perpetrators to different provinces as well as institutes in other countries where the orders were present. In his old monastery, Wall recalled seeing accused monks transferred to the Bahamas, Japan and Rome.

“With the modern religious orders, you will see the provincials change every six years,” Wall said. “What they’ll do is get [the accused religious] out of the zone of scandal, make a whole bunch of promises and never follow through on them.”

Like Wall, McKiernan believes the example of the Third Order Regular Franciscans will be a motivating factor for religious superiors moving forward to walk the straight and narrow on sex-abuse cases.

“Any provincial who has to make a decision about a priest, a monk or a brother is going to think about the Third Order Regular Franciscans,” McKiernan said. “They don’t want that to happen to them. I think it’s really going to change behavior.”

The first and primary lesson of the Third Order Regular Franciscans, Brother Timothy said, is self-scrutiny.

Said Brother Timothy, “Namely, we must continually ask ourselves, ‘Are we transparent in all that concerns our life as men and women who consecrate our lives to God for people, especially young people?’ The key lesson is that it is not enough to be accountable before God — we must be accountable to God’s people.”

 

Editorial: Rep. Rozzi, HB 1947 not going away


Editorial: Rep. Rozzi, HB 1947 not going away

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia is learning that while a key aspect of House Bill 1947 might be going away, its biggest booster is not.

State Rep. Mark Rozzi, D-126, of Berks County, the man who authored the controversial language in the bill that would have retroactively extended the window for victims of child sexual abuse that occurred decades ago to sue the molesters and those that employed them, took his case to the church this week.

Rozzi knows a little something about the church and sexual abuse. He was an altar boy and a victim decades ago. Now he’s a state representative.

His colleagues in the House gave HB 1947 a stunning, resounding victory in a 190-15 vote to extend the age when victims could sue their tormentors and those who employed them or enabled them from age 30 to age 50.

Gov. Tom Wolf indicated he supported the controversial language in the bill, which would also lift the statute of limitations for criminal charges in such cases. Wolf said if it wound up on his desk, he would sign it.

The bill then went to the Senate. That’s when opponents of the measure, most notably the Catholic Church, in particular the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, rolled up their sleeves and went to work.

Archbishop Charles Chaput sent a letter that was either read or mentioned at every Mass in every parish in the archdiocese. Chaput did not mince words, characterizing the legislation as no less than an attack on the church. He urged parishioners to contact their state senator and oppose the measure, in large part because of a belief that it would treat victims of public institutions differently unfairly than those of private institutions, and questioning the constitutionality of the retroactive language that had been penned by Rozzi.

Several members of the Delaware County House delegation found themselves feeling heat, both from the archdiocese and their local parish priests. State Rep. Nick Miccarelli, R-162, of Ridley Park actually had his name casually dropped in the parish bulletin with a friendly reminder to the faithful that he had supported the bill.

The church, clearly taken aback by the surprising approval in the House of an idea that had long been opposed in Harrisburg, was not taking any chances. It put on a full-court press, making a passionate argument against retroactivity in a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Its prayers were answered. The bill passed the Senate, but only after the language that would allow past victims to file suit was modified. Victims would have until age 50 to file civil actions against their molesters, but only in cases that occurred after the bill becomes law. It’s not back in the House.

The latest battle over such legislation was fueled by still another damning grand jury report, this time from the Johnstown-Altoona archdiocese.

An outraged Rozzi led the charge to give past victims their day in court. And he has no intention of stopping now, despite the setback in the House.

The state rep stood on the steps of the Basilica of SS. Peter & Paul, the downtown headquarters of the archdiocese, and tossed copies of grand jury reports of sexual abuse by priests. He vowed to rewrite the House bill and once again include a two-year window for past victims to file suit.

“One of my main messages today was it’s not over by any means,” Rozzi said. “For over 50 years, this institution, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, and its leadership, the archbishops and in fact all Roman Catholic dioceses across the state of Pennsylvania believed they were above the law, that they didn’t have to abide by our laws. And now they hide behind our laws.”

Of course, state representatives don’t have that luxury. They now are wearing a bull’s eye and no doubt will feel the heat once again generated by those who oppose Rozzi’s plan, most notably the archdiocese, the National Catholic Conference and the insurance industry.

Rozzi, who said he was motivated to visit the basilica because of Chaput’s opposition to his bill, was joined by several activists as well as Marci Hamilton, a lawyer who has represented clergy abuse victims. She urged elected to “start representing the common good,” while reminding those gathered – and those not in attendance – of the separation of church and state.

“They’re supposed to serve the people, and not just one set of wealthy religious lobbyists,” she said.

Rozzi said he would re-introduce his legislation in the fall, including the push to once again allow those abused decades to seek their day in court today.

The sides in this epic battle have been clearly defined, with Rozzi, other victims and their advocates on one side, and the church on the other. In the middle will be state House members, wrestling with a most prickly legal and societal issue at the very time they are campaigning for re-election.

The fight over House Bill 1947 is not over, not by a long shot.

Mark Rozzi is not going away. If nothing else, he made that crystal clear this week.

Ebensburg man, child abuse victims advocate, takes own life


Ebensburg man, child abuse victims advocate, takes own life

From the Link: http://www.tribdem.com/news/local_news/ebensburg-man-child-abuse-victims-advocate-takes-own-life/article_1304b550-d75a-5ea0-b3a1-d88902c61fe3.html

In 2003, Brian Gergely, right, and Kevin Hoover show old photographs of themselves during a news conference in Altoona, Pa. They said the pictures were taken during the time they allege a Roman Catholic priest sexually abused them while they were altar boys. The men, along with three others, sued the Altoona-Johnstown diocese, about 80 miles east of Pittsburgh, Bishop Joseph Adamec, and former Bishop Joseph Hogan, claiming the church should have known about the abuse and was negligent. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

In 2003, Brian Gergely, right, and Kevin Hoover show old photographs of themselves during a news conference in Altoona, Pa. They said the pictures were taken during the time they allege a Roman Catholic priest sexually abused them while they were altar boys. The men, along with three others, sued the Altoona-Johnstown diocese, about 80 miles east of Pittsburgh, Bishop Joseph Adamec, and former Bishop Joseph Hogan, claiming the church should have known about the abuse and was negligent. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

A onetime sexual abuse victim who has spoken out about clergy abuse in the diocese has died.

Brian Gergely, 46, was found dead July 1 inside his Ebensburg home of a self-inflicted injury, Cambria County Coroner Jeffrey Lees said Tuesday.

The Ebensburg man died of asphyxiation, he said.

Gergely was a 1988 graduate of Bishop Carroll Catholic High School, where he was a standout running back for the football team.

Over the years, he worked as a behavioral health specialist and therapeutic support staffer who spent years counseling youth.

In recent years, he went public about abuse he suffered in the 1980s at the hands of his church’s former priest, the Rev. Francis McCaa. Gergely said he hoped his willingness to speak out would encourage others to step forward and begin to overcome their own private struggles.

In its March 1 report of widespread child sexual abuse by clergy across the Altoona-Johnstown Roman Catholic Diocese, the state attorney general’s office called McCaa “a monster” who groped and “fondled the genitals of numerous children” who attended or served at Holy Name Church in Ebensburg.

The report estimated that McCaa’s victims numbered “in the hundreds.” McCaa died in 2007.

‘He was a monster’: how priest child abuse tore apart Pennsylvania towns


‘He was a monster’: how priest child abuse tore apart Pennsylvania towns

A grand jury report issued last week details abuse by dozens of Catholic leaders in the small communities of Altoona-Johnstown from the 1950s to the 1990s

in Ebensburg, Pennsylvania
Tuesday 8 March 2016

From the Link: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/mar/08/catholic-priest-child-sex-abuse-ebensburg-pennsylvania

In 2003, Brian Gergely, right, and Kevin Hoover show old photographs of themselves during a news conference in Altoona, Pa. They said the pictures were taken during the time they allege a Roman Catholic priest sexually abused them while they were altar boys. The men, along with three others, sued the Altoona-Johnstown diocese, about 80 miles east of Pittsburgh, Bishop Joseph Adamec, and former Bishop Joseph Hogan, claiming the church should have known about the abuse and was negligent. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

In 2003, Brian Gergely, right, and Kevin Hoover show old photographs of themselves during a news conference in Altoona, Pa. They said the pictures were taken during the time they allege a Roman Catholic priest sexually abused them while they were altar boys. The men, along with three others, sued the Altoona-Johnstown diocese, about 80 miles east of Pittsburgh, Bishop Joseph Adamec, and former Bishop Joseph Hogan, claiming the church should have known about the abuse and was negligent. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

One of Brian Gergely’s fellow altar boys had a code he would use to signal danger in the room where they and the priest prepared for mass.

“He would say ‘red buttons’, and that was the alert that the priest was coming up behind you, and we would try to get away from him, running around the desk in the middle of the room where he kept the chalices, the host and the wine,” said Gergely, 46.

Gergely was 10 at the time.

The priest was Monsignor Francis McCaa, a commanding figure in the small Pennsylvania town of Ebensburg in his black cassock with the red buttons, and one of dozens of Catholic leaders named in a devastating report issued last week by a state grand jury detailing appalling child sex abuse in his diocese and a systematic cover-up by the church.

“I was standing in the sacristy and he pinned me to the desk. I was just a little guy,” Gergely said. McCaa assaulted him there and also while the boy gave confession, at the Holy Name church where his family worshipped.

“My parents were patrons,” Gergely said. “They were going door to door raising money for the church. The community put Monsignor McCaa on a pedestal.”

Other priests named in the report worked in the past at the school, where Gergely recalls being subjected to tough corporal punishment.

With a population of just 3,300, Ebensburg has been jolted by the horrifying details of past abuse in its midst. The grand jury report issued by Pennsylvania attorney general Kathleen Kane describes sex crimes committed on children from the 1950s through the 1990s all across the sprawling Altoona-Johnstown diocese that lies between Pittsburgh and Harrisburg, involving more than 50 church leaders and hundreds of victims. And it reveals previously concealed church documents showing lists of secret payouts made to victims in the diocese.

Bishop Joseph Adamec

Bishop Joseph Adamec

The pattern of offenses, cover-ups and shuffling accused priests from parish to parish echoes the huge scandals already exposed in Boston, Philadelphia, and elsewhere in recent times.

The report also establishes that church authorities in Altoona-Johnstown knew decades ago what was going on, as did some civic officials and senior figures in the criminal justice system. Many details came out in public in one of the few high-profile civil lawsuits in the early 90s, filed against Father Francis Luddy, a priest who served in both Altoona and Johnstown.

But instead of leaping into action, authorities in Pennsylvania did little, the report asserts, and there was relatively little public outcry.

Now the extent of abuse in the diocese is being unveiled, though notably after the statute of limitations has expired for both criminal and civil action, and with many – but not all – of the perpetrators and their enablers already dead.

Lying midway between Altoona and Johnstown in the Allegheny mountains, Ebensburg is typical of the many small communities across the diocese, steeped in the Catholic tradition and striving to prosper in the face of declining traditional industries, especially coal mining.

McCaa’s reported depravity on his young flock stands out.

“Father Francis McCaa was a monster,” the grand jury stated.

The investigation found 15 of his alleged victims, abused between 1961 and 1985.

Bishop Mark Bartchak

Bishop Mark Bartchak

“In some cases children tried to report their abuse to their parents … but were not believed … the grand jury aches at hearing the hopelessness these victims felt when being offended on by a pastor they were taught to respect and honor,” the report says. Some parents punished their children for accusing the “friendly” monsignor, the report says, though at one point the bishop at the time, James Hogan, was confronted by a group of “outraged parents” and promised action.

Hogan met with district attorney Gerald Long and assistant DA Patrick Kiniry, both now serving as judges in the area, the report says, though no charges were brought.

McCaa was removed from the diocese and replaced with a priest who is also named in the report as a pedophile.

McCaa retired in 1993 and died in 2007. Hogan died in 2005.

Gergely was at the courthouse in Ebensburg on Friday to witness three state lawmakers holding a small public event in the marbled vestibule to announce a call for more action.

The three pledged to fight for legislation – which has been stuck for many years in committee in the state capital of Harrisburg– on whether to abolish the statute of limitations in civil cases involving child abuse. They also plan to introduce a bill to create a special, two-year window allowing past victims to sue the church.

“Just in this borough, it’s like a cancer,” said the state senator David Burns. “Everyone here knows a victim, even though they may not know they know it. The attorney general did not say the investigation is closed and there may be more to come. They estimate that in a single little town like this, McCaa affected a generation of kids.”

And people may not have realized the extent to which tears in the fabric of the community were ripped by McCaa and his ilk, Burns said.

Father Francis B McCaa head stone

Father Francis B McCaa head stone

“We have a large drug problem in our area, we deal with high driving-under-the-influence (DUI) arrests, and we just think that’s because the community is poor and unemployed, but it could be that a lot of these kids have had a hard time integrating into society because of the impact of this abuse. It strains family and sexual relationships, and it often takes years, especially for a man, to report something,” said Burns.

He said he had no reason to believe that abuse was not continuing after the period covered in the report and he hoped there would be further action.

Nationally, John Salveson, founder of the campaign group the Foundation to Abolish Child Abuse, and other activist groups, such as the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (Snap), are calling on Barack Obama to launch a federal investigation.

State assemblyman Mark Rozzi’s district is outside the Altoona-Johnstown diocese. But he is calling for a grand jury investigations in every diocese in Pennsylvania.

Rozzi said that legislators at the state assembly in Harrisburg were “running away and hiding in their offices, refusing to speak to me” when he tried to talk about taking government action against the abuse.

Rozzi, now 44, said when he was 13, he fell prey to his priest, Edward Graff.

When Graff invited a school friend of Rozzi’s to the rectory, too, the boy realized he was not the only one. Rozzi recalls Graff telling the friend to wait, while he took Rizzo into the shower and raped him.

“I remember staring at this bit of the shower wall and thinking: ‘I can stand here and take this or I can run,’” he said.

Rozzi shoved the man off him and raced out of the shower, grabbing some clothes and yelling to his friend to flee.

“I was running down the hall of the rectory, basically naked. Father was screaming at us. I said to my friend: ‘No one can know about this,’” he said. They ran away, terrified.

Rozzi became a star athlete at college, but suffered psychologically. He had appalling nightmares about being chased and raped by the priest, dreams which he tried to quell with marijuana. He credits his wife, whom he met at college, for helping to save his sanity.

After unsuccessfully lobbying the state assembly, while in his thirties, to take action on child abuse, Rozzi ran for office himself. Three of his childhood friends who also suffered sexual abuse by priests have killed themselves, the most recent on Good Friday last year.

Brian Gergely started drinking at 10 after he says he was groped by McCaa. Disappointing grades at school and two DUI convictions thwarted his ambition to become a lawyer. He is now a behavioral therapist for kids with special needs, has trouble keeping a girlfriend and is single, he said. In 2006, he tried to hang himself.

The bishop who succeeded James Hogan, Joseph Adamec, who has since retired, testified to the grand jury. He is excoriated in the report for failing to take action against numerous abusive priests, while ignoring victims. The report says church leaders sought to discredit victims and their families.

Adamec was not at home on Friday evening at the address publicly listed for him in Hollidaysburg, near Altoona, and could not be reached for comment.

But at his house next to the church where he is pastor in Altoona, Monsignor Michael Servinsky, 69, answered the door and spoke while standing in his hallway beneath portraits of the pope and the current bishop of the diocese.

Servinsky was cited in the grand jury report as having failed to notify law enforcement in 2001 and 2002 about two priests who admitted past abuse to him, one of boys the other of girls.

Servinsky denied to the Guardian that he had done anything wrong.

“I think the grand jury did quite a hatchet job on Bishop Joseph – they did him in. He was very concerned about making sure the victims got covered [financially]. And they talk about Bishop Hogan manipulating the legal system. No. I know situations where police and judges would collar him and say: ‘Get that guy out of here and we will not prosecute.’ We are talking about a different age, going back 40 or 50 years,” he said.

Servinsky added, however, that there was “no excuse” for child abuse.

He said some priests were dismissed and others were allowed to retire “because if we dismissed them, they would not have any income, and that would not be just”.

Asked whether the priests should be in prison, Servinsky argued that pedophilia has always been a problem going back millennia and in 2016 “we are still dealing with the same problem”, so what good would prison do?

“We have capital punishment and there are still murders,” he said, adding: “Most of the victims who came to us were not interested in taking it to law enforcement. They didn’t want to testify.”

Two miles up the street, the basilica-style Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament overlooks downtown Altoona.

Around 100 parishioners attended a Lent service there on Friday evening. Numerous priests named in the grand jury’s report served at the cathedral during their careers, and the report found that children were raped on the premises.

Emerging with her adolescent son, Tina, a physical education assistant born and raised in Altoona, who preferred not to give her last name, said she thought the turnout at the service had been “three times as high as normal” as people showed their support for the embattled diocese.

Inside, Father Dennis Kurdziel had just finished presiding.

He said he was “stunned and sickened” by the revelations in the grand jury report and regretted that it forced all those “wearing the collar” to feel the eye of suspicion, whether accurate or not.

“It takes your breath away. I felt this week like I was hit in the face with a two-by-four,” he said.

Current Altoona-Johnstown bishop Mark Bartchak apologized on Thursday. But state lawmakers Burns, Rozzi and John Wozniak said the test of his sincerity would be what he and other leaders do now.

Kurdziel said: “We should not hide behind the statute of limitations. If it could somehow help and protect people, then we should do it. I have a responsibility as a priest. I don’t like to think of it as power.”

Asked what a young parishioner should do if a man of the church attempts to touch them inappropriately, he said: “Smack them in the face as hard as you can and run to a cop.”

 

Lawsuits: Sisters abused by same Altoona priest as kids


Lawsuits: Sisters abused by same Altoona priest as kids

| Tuesday, June 21, 2016, 2:24 p.m.

From the Link: http://triblive.com/state/pennsylvania/10669248-74/bodziak-diocese-priest?fb_action_ids=983185511794736&fb_action_types=og.comments

1901813_10153687207618747_1757826015825436154_nALTOONA — Two sisters have sued a Catholic priest, his central Pennsylvania diocese and two ex-bishops who supervised him, saying the cleric molested them repeatedly as girls — including one at her first Communion party.

The younger sister, who is now 47, said she met the Rev. Charles Bodziak at St. Leo Church in Altoona, where he was the parish priest, when she was in second grade. At the party her parents threw after her first Communion, Bodziak groped her buttocks and gave her an open mouth kiss, according to the lawsuit.

Bodziak, now 74, repeatedly molested the girl until she was in sixth grade, taking her on school trips where she was fondled, kissed and assured “that what he was doing was ‘OK’ because he was a priest,” her lawsuit said.

The lawsuit filed by her older sister, now 49, makes similar allegations against Bodziak, covering the time when she was 8 to 14 years old. She said Bodziak gave her wine on several occasions before molesting her. Bodziak assaulted her in the rectory after summoning her from school and molested her while she practiced the organ in church, according to her lawsuit.

The Associated Press could not locate an attorney for Bodziak, and three phone numbers listed as his in online databases were not answered Tuesday.

Tony DeGol, a spokesman for the Altoona-Johnstown diocese, declined to comment on the allegations, but noted current Bishop Mark Bartchak placed Bodziak “on leave in January as a precautionary measure while the diocese re-examines an allegation of sexual misconduct involving minors against Father Bodziak dating back more than 30 years.”

It unclear whether the allegation cited by the diocese relates to the lawsuits filed Tuesday by attorney Richard Serbin, who has been suing the diocese and its priests for alleged molestation of children for decades.

Bodziak was labeled a child predator in a grand jury report earlier this year. The report focused on the diocese and was critical of two former bishops who were sued on Tuesday, James Hogan and Joseph Adamec. Hogan, who headed the diocese from 1966 to 1986, died in 2005. Adamec, who succeeded him, retired in 2011.

Adamec’s attorney didn’t immediately return a call for comment. DeGol said a priest serving as executor of Hogan’s estate declined comment.

The lawsuits parrot the grand jury’s findings that the bishops were either slow to respond or sought to cover-up allegations of child-sex abuse against Bodziak and dozens of other priests over the last 50 years.

The grand jury report noted that Bodziak remained in ministry after an allegation involving a different girl surfaced in 2003 and Adamec referred it to a review board. The lawsuits quote the grand jury report, which said the board served as a “fact-finding” mechanism that forwarded information to lawyers to help the diocese protect itself from litigation, “not a victim service function.”

Sexual abuse in seven words


Sexual abuse in seven words

The criminality revealed in Altoona-Johnstown was driven by deference

From the Link: http://www.post-gazette.com/opinion/2016/05/20/Sexual-abuse-in-seven-words/stories/201605220100?platform=hootsuite

I hope the good people of southwestern Pennsylvania have enough patience left to tolerate further commentary on their recent shock and sorrow: the state grand jury report on sexual abuse by clergy in the Altoona-Johnstown Catholic Diocese, which justifiably labeled decades of child abuse as “soul murder.”

I know the wounds. As an outsider and a New England Catholic who suffered through the meltdown of the Boston Archdiocese in 2002, perhaps I can bring a fresh perspective to this well-worn story. I certainly could do no worse than the current Altoona-Johnstown bishop, Mark Bartchak, who wrote to his parishioners that the grand jury evidence was “filled with the darkness of sin.”

What, no acknowledgement of criminality?

I’m afraid that Bishop Bartchak wears the cope of history on his shoulders: FBI data show, that going back almost three-quarters of a century to the 1940s, he is the heir to four bishops at least 46 abusive priests and hundreds of child victims.

The grand jury report’s 147 pages have many lessons to teach us, but its main message can be summarized in seven words: deference spawns collusion spawns cover-up spawns victims.

This reduction to essentials is not a slight to the gravity or complexity of the grand jury narrative. Rather, it is a thoughtful attempt to identify the major diagnostic markers which can help us better understand the cause-effect dynamics that drive this kind of long-running crime spree.

The first crucial dynamic running through the story is “deference.” To understand the why and how of abuse in Altoona-Johnstown, and in the hundreds of similar cases around the country, we must first understand that, particularly in an institutional context, the documented abuse is not all sexual. To be enabled, to flourish in secrecy with impunity, it requires a supportive cultural context. That support comes from a culture of deference, and the associated collusion it spawns both within and outside the institution. The result is a “… conspiracy of silence [which] has deep roots in the Altoona diocese,” as it was put in the grand jury report.

On the religion side of the supposed church-state divide, the grand jury cited “the hubris of apathetic administrators” in concluding that church authorities colluded to cover up the crimes and enable predatory priests. A clinical analysis of the deranged behavior of the clerical soul destroyers might conclude that their sickness was driven by a compulsion. But when investigators discovered, locked in the bishops’ closets, more than 115,000 documents relating to abusive priests, it was clear that no compulsion drove the behavior of church leaders. Rather, their careful prioritization of institutional reputation over children’s safety was rational, considered, self-conscious, deliberate and actively managed.

On the secular side of the crime scene, we encounter a more insidious kind of collusion, with disturbing evidence of deferential secular authorities and judicial agencies giving the Catholic Church a pass and — what victims never had — options.

From the community leadership, deference was not only expected, but exploited for the church’s benefit, with many officials often owing their positions to the bishop. The Post-Gazette characterized this kind of incestuous interaction in its excellent reporting on the grand jury report, describing the “reluctance” of law enforcement officials to pursue cases of priest misconduct, even when urged by parents.

The lens of deference helps put the Altoona story into perspective.

First, this sordid narrative is at once unique and familiar: different names, different players, but the same violence, the same outcomes, the same pattern of collusion and deference that runs through all the depressing histories of church criminality written in recent decades.

Next, it is painfully obvious that, for a very long time, there was no separation of church and state in the governance of Blair County. With the church extorting a heavy premium for loyalty and allegiance, the conformity between the religious and the secular seemed more akin to Sharia law in Iran than American democracy.

Further, whether demanded, expected or leveraged for advantage, deference is not the unique prerogative of the Catholic Church. Private, secular corporations may also use it as a means of deflecting close scrutiny of their operations. But wherever it occurs, deference denotes privilege, entitlement, special treatment. In Altoona, it perverted the course of justice.

Where can we turn for consolation or commiseration? If misery loves company, Altoona Catholics might well turn for comfort to Ireland, a land to which they are tied by a legacy of immigration and religious heritage. No other country has suffered more from the disease of deference, and no one has spoken more eloquently of its pernicious effects on Irish society and culture than its brave prime minister, Enda Kenny.

Confronted with the sickening results of yet another government inquiry (the third) into a long history of abuse and cover-up in a rural Irish diocese — not unlike Altoona — an exasperated Mr. Kenny made a historic speech from the floor of the Irish parliament on July 20, 2012, excoriating both the Irish Catholic church and the Vatican for flouting the nation’s child protection laws: “The rape and torture of children were downplayed or ‘managed’ to uphold, instead, the primacy of the institution, its power, standing and ‘reputation.’ ”

With striking Celtic oratory, Mr. Kenny addressed the problematic tradition of Irish subservience to a Catholic Church which deemed itself unaccountable, “…where the swish of a soutane smothered conscience and humanity, and the swing of a thurible ruled the Irish-Catholic world.” But the criminal practices of that church would no longer be tolerated in 21st-century Ireland: “The age of deference is over,” an outraged Mr. Kenny cried.

If only.

And if only the United States had a national voice like Mr. Kenny’s to champion the cause of justice for victims.

Arthur McCaffrey is a retired Harvard University psychologist (arthurmccaffrey@yahoo.com).

 

Catholic church accused of using ‘mafia-like’ tactics to fight sex abuse bill


Catholic church accused of using ‘mafia-like’ tactics to fight sex abuse bill

Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul Philadelphia Pennsylvania
Clergy process into the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul, ahead of the papal mass in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on 26 September 2015. Photograph: Mark Makela/Reuters

Grand jury: Hundreds of children sexually abused by priests in Altoona-Johnstown diocese


Grand jury: Hundreds of children sexually abused by priests in Altoona-Johnstown diocese

POSTED 10:45 AM, MARCH 1, 2016, BY , UPDATED AT 10:54AM, MARCH 1, 2016

ALTOONA, Pa.  — A statewide investigating grand jury has determined that hundreds of children were sexually abused over a period of at least 40 years by priests or religious leaders assigned to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown, Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane’s office announced today.

The widespread abuse involved at least 50 priests or religious leaders. Evidence and testimony reviewed by the grand jury also revealed a troubling history of superiors within the Diocese taking action to conceal the child abuse as part of an effort to protect the institution’s image. The grand jury, in a 147-page report made public today, stressed this conduct endangered thousands of children and allowed proven child predators to abuse additional victims.

“The heinous crimes these children endured are absolutely unconscionable,” said Kane, who addressed the media this morning at a news conference at the Blair County Convention Center. “These predators desecrated a sacred trust and preyed upon their victims in the very places where they should have felt most safe.

“Just as troubling is the cover-up perpetrated by clergy leaders that allowed this abuse to continue for decades,” Kane added. “They failed in our society’s most important task of protecting our children.”

The grand jury’s findings followed two years of exhaustive investigation by the Office of Attorney General, which brought this matter to the grand jury in April 2014. While Attorney General Kane stressed the investigation is ongoing, none of the criminal acts detailed in the grand jury report can be prosecuted. This is due to the deaths of alleged abusers, deeply traumatized victims being unable to testify in a court of law and the statute of limitations for the crimes being exhausted.

As a result, the grand jury in its report made a series of recommendations, such as abolishing the statute of limitations for sexual offenses against minors and urging the state General Assembly to suspend the civil statute of limitations on sexual abuse claims.

The grand jurors also urged victims of crimes, such as child abuse, to report criminal activity to law enforcement. Attorney General Kane also urged victims and others with information concerning the Roman Catholic Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown to contact the Office of Attorney General. Those with information may contact the office by dialing 888-538-8541, a toll-free, dedicated hotline established for this case.

“This is by no means the end of our investigation. We will continue to look at this matter and consider charges where appropriate, which is why it is so important for those with information to come forward,” Kane said. “At the very least we must continue to shine a light on this long period of abuse and despicable conduct.”

Execution of search warrant uncovers “secret archive”

The grand jury reviewed more than 200 exhibits and heard testimony from numerous witnesses, which created thousands of pages of transcribed testimony. A substantial amount of the physical evidence was uncovered when investigators with the Office of Attorney General executed a search warrant last August at a Diocese office and uncovered materials that included the Diocese’s “secret archive.”

The materials included numerous files for priests accused of sexual misconduct. As the grand jury noted in its report, boxes and filing cabinets were filled with documents detailing children being sexually violated by the Diocese’s own members. Also among the seized items detailing the abuse were: handwritten notes of Bishop James Hogan, letters and documents sent to Bishop Joseph Adamec, several sexual abuse victim statements, correspondence with offending priests and internal correspondence related to these matters. All told, approximately 115,042 documents were removed from the Diocese.

The evidence was instrumental in detailing the actions of Bishops Hogan and Adamec, the men who led the Diocese between the mid-1960s through 2011. The bishops allegedly were at the forefront of the cover-up the grand jury details in its report.

The evidence also shows several instances in which law enforcement officers and prosecutors failed to pursue allegations of child sexual abuse occurring within the Diocese.

Priest sent on sabbatical to avoid criminal investigation

The grand jury found the case of Joseph Gaborek, 70, to be “a particularly heinous example of the Diocese exercising authority and influence to cover up the sexual abuse of a child at the hands of a Diocesan priest.”

The grand jury reviewed evidence that Gaborek, who was assigned to St. Michael’s Church (West Salisbury) and St. Mary’s Church (Pocahontas) in the early 1980s, sexually violated a boy after recruiting him to work at the parishes. The abuse was later reported to the Pennsylvania State Police, the grand jury stated.

The grand jury determined that Bishop Hogan spoke to police investigating the case and assured a police investigator he would send Gaborek to an institution. Further review of the evidence showed Gaborek was sent on sabbatical to a school for boys where there was no psychological or psychiatric treatment available, the grand jury determined. He was later reassigned to another parish.

The Diocese’s own files detailed Hogan’s intervention in the police investigation. A portion of one such file noted Gaborek “would have been prosecuted and convicted of [sexual contact with a 16 year old boy] except that the bishop intervened and he was sent to Michigan for treatment and then placed in another parish upon his return.”

Bishop acted to avoid scandal rather than protect children, grand jury finds

The grand jury report details another troubling example of abuse allegedly perpetrated by Martin Cingle, 69, a priest who was ordained in 1973 and later was assigned to various parishes within the Diocese. Evidence uncovered during the investigation showed Cingle in 1979 groped the genitals of a child while sleeping next to the boy on a cot in his underwear, the grand jury report states.

The victim met in 2002 with Bishop Adamec. Records recovered from the Diocese show that Adamec sent Cingle for “treatment” after the victim came to him. The so-called treatment concluded after roughly one month. Among its findings, records show, was the determination that there was no evidence of “psychopathology in the psychological data,” and that nothing in Cingle’s history was consistent with an attempt to initiate sexual relations with a man. Cingle was returned to full-time ministry.

During his testimony before the grand jury, Cingle acknowledged he could have accidentally fondled the boy’s genitals. The grand jury learned Cingle had told Adamec the same version of events, but the account does not appear in diocesan records. Cingle was left in the ministry until last year, when the Office of Attorney General demanded Cingle be removed from ministry immediately.

The grand jury determined the allegation made against Cingle warranted his removal, and that Bishop Adamec’s reliance on so-called “treatment” was part of a desire to avoid scandal. The matter was never reported to law enforcement.

At least 15 boys abused by monsignor

The grand jury deemed Francis B. McCaa, now deceased, to be “a monster.” McCaa, a monsignor, was assigned for more than 20 years to the Holy Name Church in Ebensburg, where he groped and fondled the genitals of at least 15 boys, many of whom were altar boys, the grand jury found. The victims were reported to be between 8 and 15 years old.

One McCaa victim said the abuse occurred during confession. In other instances, the victims stood together while being abused, the grand jury found. At least one victim committed suicide.

Bishop Hogan in this case also kept detailed notes of his meeting with two prosecutors who worked for the Cambria County district attorney’s office. The notes show another case in which Hogan intervened in a child abuse investigation involving a member of the Diocese, and had McCaa transferred to work as a chaplain at a West Virginia hospital.

Investigators conducted interviews with the prosecutors involved in the McCaa case, which also confirmed their inaction and the decision to move McCaa to another location in lieu of pursuing criminal charges, the grand jury alleges.

OAG credits FBI for assistance with investigation

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown’s parishes are located within eight counties — Bedford, Blair, Cambria, Centre, Clinton, Fulton, Huntingdon and Somerset. There are more than 90,000 Catholics in the area the Diocese covers, according to the grand jury.

This Office of Attorney General assumed jurisdiction of this matter upon a formal conflict referral by Cambria County District Attorney Kelly Callihan. The matter was presented to the grand jury by Deputy Attorney General Daniel J. Dye of the Office of Attorney General’s Criminal Prosecutions Section. The office’s Bureau of Criminal Investigations also spent a significant amount of time gathering the evidence that was presented to the grand jury.

The Attorney General’s investigators also were aided greatly by behavioral experts with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Critical Incident Response Group, Behavioral Analysis Unit.

Attorney General Kane thanked all who took part in the investigation for their commitment and hard work.

Catholic parishioners urged to help defeat SOL reform; one parishioner walks out of Mass


Catholic parishioners urged to help defeat SOL reform; one parishioner walks out of Mass

By Ivey DeJesus | idejesus@pennlive.com
Email the author | Follow on Twitter
on June 06, 2016 at 5:20 PM, updated June 07, 2016 at 6:55 PM

From the Link: http://www.pennlive.com/news/2016/06/catholic_child_sex_crimes_law.html#comments

Catholic parishioners across the state this past weekend were read a letter urging them to encourage their state lawmakers to defeat a bill that would amend the state’s child sex crime laws. House Bill 1947, which is now in the hands of the Senate, would reform the statute of limitations.

At 72, Nancy O’Brien has been a devout Catholic all her life.

On Sunday, O’Brien walked out of Mass in disgust. She did so after her priest at St. Anthony of Padua in Ambler, just outside Philadelphia, read a letter from the head of the archdiocese encouraging parishioners to help defeat a proposed legislation that would reform the state’s child sex crimes.

St. Anthony’s wasn’t the only parish to receive the letter. All 219 parishes across Philadelphia were read the letter from Archbishop Charles Chaput urging them to contact their lawmakers by mail or telephone and encourage them to vote against House Bill 1947, which would reform the statute of limitations.

“It was bull (expletive),” O’Brien said on Monday. “I don’t have to listen to this bull (expletive) anymore. I’ve been a practicing Catholic all my life. I’m not going to be anything else. I  thought it was an insult. I  know what’s been going on.”

House Bill 1947, which was approved in the House by a near-unanimous vote in April, is slated to be taken up for a hearing by the Senate Judiciary Committee next Monday.

In his letter, which was provided in English and Spanish, Chaput argues that the bill “poses serious dangers” to all parishes, ministries, charities and schools. He urges parishioners to write or telephone their local state senator and members of the state Senate Judiciary Committee to vote against HB 1947, especially any retroactivity provision in the civil statute of limitation covering sexual abuse.

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput. Hypocrite and Pedophile Defender of the Unholy Roman Catholic Church.

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput. Hypocrite and Pedophile Defender of the Unholy Roman Catholic Church.

“All of us are rightly angered by the crime of sexual abuse,” Chaput writes. “Over the past decade the Church has worked very hard to support survivors in their healing, to protect our children and to root this crime out of Church life.  But HB 1947 and bills like it are destructive legislation being advanced as a good solution. The problem with HB 1947 is its prejudicial content.  It covers both public and religious institutions — but in drastically different and unjust ways.  The bill fails to support all survivors of abuse equally, and it’s a clear attack on the Church, her parishes and her people.”

In addition, parish priests also distributed inserts in both languages, explaining the statute of limitations issue, as well as steps the Philadelphia Archdiocese has taken to address clergy sex abuse and the needs of victims. The second document outlined the negative impact the bill would have on parishes, schools, and charitable ministries.

Ken Gavin, spokesman for the archdiocese, said the reading of the letter was not a mandate.

“The Archbishop requested that pastors do this and strongly encouraged it, but he did not mandate it,” he said.

The main provisions of House Bill 1947 include:

  • The elimination of criminal statutes on future sex crimes against children;
  • A 20-year extension to the current civil time limit (to age 50 for victims under 50)
  • The waiving of sovereign immunity for state and local public institutions (such as public schools) in cases of gross negligence.
  • A retroactive component that would allows past victims of child sex abuse to file civil claims up to the age of 50. (Under current law, victims of child sexual abuse are barred from seeking civil action after they reach the age of 30.)

Gavin said efforts by the Catholic Church to reform the law and to help victims are often overlooked in the conversation on reform.

“As people learn more about HB1947 and what the Church has done for more than a decade to help survivors of abuse and prevent child abuse, they’re seeing that the Church has done more in these areas of reform than any other private or public institution,” he said. “They’re also seeing that the currently proposed legislation excludes the many victims who suffered abuse in public institutions and that it holds public and private institutions to drastically different standards for the same bad acts.”

Requests for information from the Harrisburg Diocese and the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese were not immediately granted Monday.

Monsignor Stephen P. McHenry, senior pastor at St. Anthony of Padua, said he read the archbishop’s message because he agrees that the legislation is flawed – primarily its lack of uniformity in its retroactive provisions.

“I don’t think that’s fair legislation,” McHenry said. “I don’t think it’s a good bill. If abuse is as bad as it is and it is, everybody should have coverage.”

McHenry said he has been dealing with the clergy sex abuse scandal since 2002, the year of the first grand jury report showing widespread clergy sex abuse and its cover-up by church officials.

“I know some of those priests and the people abused,” he said. “It’s been a very, very bad period for over 10 years but I  do think we are trying to do things to be helpful. I  think there is need for legislation but I  don’t think this is the legislation.”

McHenry has written to the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee Sen. Stewart Greenleaf, asking him to amend the bill so it has a wider scope or write new legislation.

He said he is aware that some of his parishioners feel strongly about reform.

“I  think some of my parishioners have experience with the people that were abused,” McHenry said. “They would like the church to have to pay big penalties so that it understands it did a very bad thing. I understand that viewpoint but this viewing of only singling out certain groups and not extending it to every child, I don’t think it’s good.”

In his letter, Chaput echoes a long-held stance by the church – particularly its legislative branch, the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference – that the bill would have a catastrophic financial impact on the archdiocese.

Private and religious entities, he argued, would face “unlimited liability for exactly the same evil actions,” and not just going forward, but also in the past.

“This is not justice,” Chaput writes. “In fact, HB 1947 actually excludes most victims.  And it also targets innocent Catholic parishes and families, like your own, who will bear the financial burden of crimes committed by bad individuals in the past, along with the heavy penalties that always result from these bad bills.”

The archdiocese, like scores of other dioceses across the country, was rocked by grand jury investigations that found decades of widespread clergy sex abuse and its cover-up by church officials. Earlier this year, the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese became the latest diocese in Pennsylvania to be investigated for allegations of clergy sex abuse. A grand jury investigation out of the diocese found patterns now similar across other diocese – that of years of the abuse of children at the hands of diocesan priests and the cover-up of the abuse by church leaders.

O’Brien, a member of Voice of the Faithful, a reform advocacy group, anticipates the church is not going to let up trying to defeat the bill. She said she would continue going to Mass – noting that attendance at her parish is on the decline.

“They say we are so afraid we won’t be able to help the poor,” she said. “Give me a break. They could care less about the poor. I’ve seen so many people get hurt by their refusal to do anything.”