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ALTOONA, Pa. (ChurchMilitant.com) - Perpetrators of a systematic cover-up of hundreds of cases of child sex abuse in a Pennsylvania diocese may be facing federal charges of organized crime.
In a statement Friday U.S. Attorney David Hickton announced the continuing investigation into a massive four decade scandal involving Altoona-Johnstown diocesan hierarchy and local government authorities protecting dozens of known homosexual molesters meets the criteria for a federal case invoking the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). The RICO Act, which originated in 1970 to combat the NY crime families, allows leaders of organizations to face charges for crimes they ordered be committed or enabled others to commit.
The abuses in question date back several decades, with the majority of molestations occurring during the 1970s and 1980s and the earliest known abuse taking place in 1940. For this reason the current statute of limitations prohibits charges from being levied concerning both the abuses and the cover-up.
But according to Hickton, federal law permits civil cases to be brought against organizations with the intent pursuing an injunction or consent decree that would insure the same crimes cannot be perpetrated in the future. "We have federal tools which may put us in a position to do something," the attorney explained.
The organized cover-up in question took place under two former Altoona-Johnstown diocesan bishops, James Hogan and Joseph Adamec. The pair lead the diocese from 1966 to 2011 and according to chancery records spent those more than forty years protecting openly homosexual priests in a growing scandal that involves hundreds of minors, the vast majority being post-pubescent males, and resulted in two confirmed clerical and at least one victim suicide.
The 147-page grand jury report, released early last month, describes in disturbing detail the actions of the homosexual predators in addition to those taken, or not taken, by Bp. James Hogan. According to diocesan records — which include personal notes written by Hogan himself — the prelate was abundantly aware of the homosexual crisis within his diocese but instead transferred the abusive priests from parish to parish, even sending a known sodomite cleric to work at an all-boys school. Hogan, who died in 2005, would also instruct priests subject to police surveillance to "lay low" and say nothing.
The report also notes Bp. Joseph Adamec, who retired in 2011, continued the work of hiding abuse and failed to penalize suspected priests, apart from ordering around a dozen to undergo mental evaluations. The grand jury report notes that both Bp. Adamec and staff members would bully alleged victims, often threatening them with excommunication if they spoke up.
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. After the court details were made public in 2013, Baker committed suicide by plunging two knives into his heart.
A second accused cleric had also committed suicide five years prior after a fourth victim came forward with allegations of abuse. After supposedly stating the charges leveled against him had "done him in," Fr. William Rosensteel jumped off a bridge crossing over the Stonycreek River in Cambria County, Pennsylvania, plummeting 190-feet to his death.
According to the state attorney general's office, a phone line established for reporting past molestations by diocesan priests and others has taken more than 250 calls. But according to Pennsylvania deputy attorney general Daniel Dye, the number of calls they are receiving "are just a mere fraction of the total ... It is absolutely what we expected having read the diocese's records."