ALTOONA, Pa. (ChurchMilitant.com) - A Pennsylvania grand jury report is alleging two bishops spent nearly 40 years protecting priests guilty of child sex abuse. Evidence also reveals corruption, with at least one of the bishops working with police to cover up the crimes.
In a 147-page report released Tuesday as part of an investigation into sexual abuse within the Altoona-Johnstown diocese, the jury claims two of the diocese's former bishops worked over multiple decades to shelter more than 50 priests responsible for molesting hundreds of children. The evidence on which the grand jury report was partially based had been discovered in classified diocesan documents attained through a search warrant in August.
"These predators desecrated a sacred trust and preyed upon their victims in the very places where they should have felt most safe," asserted Pennsylvania attorney general Kathleen Kane after the report had been released.
Kane also noted the "cover-up perpetrated by clergy leaders that allowed this abuse to continue for decades" was almost equally as troubling as the abuses themselves.
The bishops in question, James Hogan and Joseph Adamec, led the diocese of Altoona-Johnstown in southern Pennsylvania from 1966 to 2011. According to the report, Bp. Hogan, who died in 2005, worked to transfer priests from parish to parish as various allegations of abuse would emerge.
One cleric in particular, who according to the procured diocesan documents "would have been prosecuted and convicted except that the bishop intervened," was sent to work at an all-boys school. Hogan also made sure priests ordered to undergo psychiatric evaluations were sent to obscure mental hospitals to avoid word getting out, as, according to Hogan's own private notes, the evaluations would be an "admission of guilt."
Court records from the 1990s state that police surveillance performed during the mid-1980s had identified several diocesan priests who frequented "pick-up joints" for prostitutes and homosexuals seeking young boys. Following a threat from a Blair County judge to "throw the book" at the identified clerics, Bp. Hogan ordered the priests to "lay low, say nothing" while police surveillance was conducted. Hogan also told the clerics a homosexual orientation was not an excuse for "intrinsically evil activity" and their actions were "threatening the good name of the Church."
It was revealed to the grand jury by Monsignor Philip Saylor, who worked under Hogan, that the bishop's chancery held so much power that mayors and officials would consult the diocesan hierarchy when appointing individuals to civil positions, including posts within the courts.
Court documents also highlight Hogan's influence in various police departments, whom he relied on to keep accusations of abuse under wraps. "Politicians of Blair County were afraid," testified former Altoona police chief Peter Starr, who admitted he had been appointed chief of police at the recommendation of Bp. Hogan.
The report goes on to implicate Bp. Joseph Adamec, who succeeded Hogan in 1987 and retired in 2011, of continuing the work of hiding abuse and failing to penalize suspected priests, apart from ordering around a dozen to undergo a mental evaluation. The grand jury report notes both Bp. Adamec and staff members would bully alleged victims, often threatening them with excommunication if they spoke up.
According to Attorney General Kane, no criminal charges are going to be filed. This, she says, is owing to the fact that the statute of limitations has run out and many of the victims refuse to testify because of trauma, among other things.
In response to the findings, Bp. Mark Bartchak, current head of the Altoona-Johnstown diocese, suspended several priests mentioned by name in the grand jury report pending further investigation. The bishop, who has not been accused of misconduct, issued a statement saying he "deeply regret[s] any harm that has come to children."
The current probe of sex abuse cases in Altoona-Johnstown began after the state attorney general's office was asked to look into molestation claims leveled against one Br. Stephen Barker, a Franciscan who acted as athletic trainer for Bishop McCort Catholic High School in Johnstown from 1992 to 2001. The case, which was settled in 2014, resulted in approximately $8 million paid out by the diocese to 88 victims. Baker committed suicide in 2013 after the court details were made public.
Attorney Richard Serbin, who handled the Br. Baker case, asserted that "[h]undreds of children probably could have been saved from a life of misery had [the bishops] done something back then and, more importantly, a lot of these child predators could have been criminally prosecuted."
An estimated $4 billion has been paid by American dioceses since 1950 to settle abuse claims, according to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.