Posted 10:45 AM, March 1, 2016,
by Valerie Waltz, 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.
Associated Press writer Rachel Zoll in New York contributed to this story.
Grand jury: Altoona diocese concealed sex abuse of hundreds of children by priests
March 1, 2016 11:47 PM
By Peter Smith / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
ALTOONA — After the tolling of the noon hour Tuesday at the magnificent domed Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, whose towering perch above this historic railroad town reflects the Catholic Church’s long powerful presence in central Pennsylvania, the Rev. Dennis Kurdziel left little doubt for whom the bell tolled.
“Pray for the victims,” said Father Kurdziel in a somber noontime Mass, held less than two hours after the release of a state grand jury report finding that hundreds of children were abused by at least 50 priests and others associated with the church in the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown across nearly half a century.
“Pray for your bishop,” added Father Kurdziel, associate pastor of the cathedral. “Pray for your priests. I need your prayers. Ask for God’s help, even on this very ugly day.”
And with that, the congregation of several dozen bowed in extended silent prayer before resuming the Mass liturgy.
Across town at the Blair County Convention Center, authorities were releasing a catalog of horrors in a 147-page report by the 37th Statewide Investigating Grand jury, which spent nearly two years delving into the case.
Hundreds of children were molested, raped and destined to lasting psychological trauma by clerics whose abuses were covered up by their bishops, other superiors and even compliant law-enforcement officials in Blair and Cambria counties, the report said.
The conspiracy amounted to “soul murder,” the report said, with abuse happening everywhere from camps and homes to the historic cathedral itself. That description echoes that of similar grand jury probes into the Archdiocese of Philadelphia in 2005 and 2011 that found cardinals and other clerics shifted numerous known abusers from one unsuspecting parish to another.
Attorney General Kathleen Kane called it a “day of reckoning” for abusers and their enablers but lamented that no one could be criminally charged.
That was because the abuse happened too long ago to be prosecuted under the statute of limitations in effect at that time, or because the perpetrators had died or the victims were too traumatized to testify. But Ms. Kane said the investigation is ongoing and that anyone with information should call 1-888-538-8541.
“These findings are both staggering and sobering,” said the grand jury report. “Over many years hundreds of children have fallen victim to child predators wrapped in the authority and integrity of an honorable faith. As wolves disguised as the shepherds themselves — these men stole the innocence of children by sexually preying upon the most innocent and vulnerable …. ”
Much of the abuse happened between the 1940s and 1980s, according to the report, but many of the victims came forward in more recent decades to report the priest to the diocese.
The two previous bishops leading the diocese — James Hogan, who served from 1966 to 1986 and died in 2005, and Joseph Adamec, who served from 1987 to 2011 and is now retired — “took actions that further endangered children as they placed their desire to avoid public scandal over the well-being of innocent children,” the report said. “Priests were returned to ministry with full knowledge they were child predators.”
Bishop Adamec refused to testify to the grand jury, invoking his constitutional right not to testify against himself in a criminal matter, but his lawyer issued a 10-page statement defending his actions and saying the grand jury report omitted key evidence.
The Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown issued a statement responding to the report, noting that it had “cooperated fully with authorities throughout the investigation, and will continue to do so as part of our commitment to the safety of all children.”
“This is a painful and difficult time in our Diocesan Church,” said the Most Rev. Mark L. Bartchak, bishop of the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown, who took office in 2011 and who drew favorable comments from the grand jury for his responses to abuse allegations. “I deeply regret any harm that has come to children, and I urge the faithful to join me in praying for all victims of abuse.”
The report includes extensive testimony from a key aide to Bishop Hogan, Monsignor Philip Saylor, who said a Blair County president judge, sheriff and other law enforcement officers let the diocese handle abusive priests internally, rather than prosecuting them.
The grand jury said there was an apparent reason for this deference — that the diocese had political boss-like powers in central Pennsylvania. Monsignor Saylor said a mayor of Johnstown sent candidates for police and fire chief to him for interviews, and he would tell the mayor whom to pick. “That happened in Johnstown and Altoona,” he said.
The grand jury report quoted former Altoona police Chief Peter Starr as crediting his own appointment to such arrangements and saying that the “politicians of Blair County were afraid of Monsignor Saylor,” who was editor of the diocesan newspaper.
With such influence, “Hogan saw no obligation of faith or law to the children of his parishioners,” the grand jury report said.
The report added that even a diocesan review board, impaneled amid growing public outrage over sexual abuse by priests, often turned into a travesty, with investigations focusing not on the accused but on those reporting abuse by priests. In one case, the review board sought gynecological records of a survivor, the report said.
And in another case, a top diocesan official suggested to an abuse victim, himself now a priest, that he could be excommunicated for suing the church — before the official admitted he was reading from an expired canon in church law and that this couldn’t happen. But, the priest said, he felt he was being threatened with hell to intimidate him.
The report excoriated Bishop Adamec for the diocese’s 1992 statement regarding the dismissal of a lawsuit involving the Rev. Francis Luddy, whom the diocese knew molested, sodomized and performed oral sex on at least 10 children.
The diocese called the dismissed lawsuit “frivolous” even though Bishop Adamec knew “with certainty that Francis Luddy had admitted to molesting the very children for whom the bishop bore the most responsibility.”
Bishop Adamec’s attorney, David Berardinelli, filed a 10-page statement with the grand jury defending the retired bishop and calling its criticism ”unfounded.”
Mr. Berardinelli said the lawsuit involving Mr. Luddy was dismissed after the accuser’s own brother said in an affidavit the claim was not credible and that Mr. Luddy had already been removed from ministry by that time.
He said Bishop Adamec followed a process of meeting with victims, investigating claims and following the advice of psychiatric professionals who evaluated accused priests. It said that five priests who were cleared to return to service never offended afterward and that others were eventually removed from ministry.
“While, in hindsight, one might second guess isolated actions taken by Bishop Adamec, there simply is no pattern or practice of putting the church’s image or a priest’s reputation above the protection of children,” his statement said.
The grand jury report faulted the psychological reviews as inadequate. Deputy Attorney General Daniel Dye, who had called Bishop Adamec before the grand jury, noted that the bishop refused to make that case to the grand jury when he refused to testify under oath.
No alleged abusers are currently in ministry, but some were removed only recently.
Ms. Kane said at the time most of the abuse occurred, the statute of limitations for civil lawsuits was two years. It varied for criminal cases but was only a few years at the time of most offenses.
The law has been revised several times, and a victim can sue for child sexual abuse as late as age 30 and pursue criminal charges as late as 50 in some cases. The grand jury is recommending the complete removal of statutes for future child sexual abuse criminal cases and opening a window of time allowing civil suits for past abuse, as some other states have done.
The grand jury investigation began with a referral by the Cambria County District Attorney’s office to the state Office of the Attorney General regarding alleged abuse at Bishop McCort Catholic High School in Johnstown.
The grand jury probe expanded into a sweeping look at abuse dating as far back as the 1940s.
In August, investigators executed a search warrant at diocesan offices in Altoona and seized 115,000 documents, many from filing cabinets and safes where the most sensitive church documents were kept.
Reports of many of the alleged abusers have appeared in various media over the past two decades, with the grand jury singling out extensive investigations by Johnstown’s Tribune-Democrat in 2002 and 2003.
That was in the wake of Boston Globe investigations, recently dramatized in the Oscar-winning movie “Spotlight,” into the shocking levels of abuse and cover-up in the Archdiocese of Boston. That investigation led to revelations of similar cover-ups worldwide and to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Dallas mandating on June 14, 2002, the removal of any priest from ministry who committed even a single act of abuse.
David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said reports such as this are “heartbreaking but crucial.”
“For decades now, bishops have claimed, ‘We acted badly because we just didn’t know or understand,’” Mr. Clohessy added. “That particular excuse has always rung hollow, but reports like this show precisely why.”
One case that occurred right after the 2002 policy change involved the Rev. Martin Cingle, who, according to the grand jury, had groped the genitals of a then-15-year-old boy while sleeping next to the boy on a trip he had taken him on. The victim reported the abuse in late June 2002.
Bishop Adamec then met with Father Cingle, who denied remembering such an event, then sent the priest for what the grand jury said was an insufficient psychological review. With the review inconclusive, Bishop Adamec returned the priest to ministry, where he remained until Father Cingle recently admitted to the grand jury under threat of a perjury charge that he had molested the boy.
After that, Deputy Attorney General Dye wrote to current Bishop Bartchak, who agreed to his request to remove Father Cingle immediately from ministry.
And although the Dallas conference mandated the creation of review boards, the grand jury report noted that as late as 2005, the Altoona-Johnstown diocese was hiring private investigators to look for ways to undercut the credibility of an alleged accuser.
Peter Smith: email@example.com or 412-263-1416; Twitter @PG_PeterSmith.