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  New Sex-Abuse Bombshell: Time Bishop [adamec of Altoona-Johnstown] Comes Clean

The Tribune-Democrat
June 23, 2002

Officials of Altoona-Johnstown Roman Catholic Diocese have known of at least 10 priests implicated in sex abuse cases involving hundreds of young boys, according to public records reviewed by the Tribune-Democrat.

But the offenders remained in the priesthood, and the diocese meted out such mild punishments as transfers, therapy or "rest and recreation."

Not one criminal report was made. Not one priest was arrested.

Only one offender was defrocked Francis Luddy and that came only after a trial and a $2 million-plus assessment against the Church.

Most incidents occurred while now-retired James Hogan was bishop.

But Joseph Adamec, bishop since 1987, has consistently denied a widespread problem, calling the Luddy trial "an isolated case."

In the meantime, testimony about rampant pedophilia was being whispered privately to Blair County Jude Hiram Carpenter behind closed doors.

Records also show that police knew of the sex scandals but discussed them discreetly with diocese officials instead of making arrests.

More cases emerge

This is the portrait of the Altoona-Johnstown diocese that emerges from an examination of court documents in the 1994 sex abuse trial of now-defrocked Luddy.

The trial is of significance in the context of the national church sex scandal and the disciplinary actions against priests now mandated by the new national bishops' policy adopted June 15 at its historic meeting in Dallas.

Although the Luddy trial made daily headlines, not all was told in the public courtroom.

But closed-door meetings are part of the public record, which the Tribune-Democrat recently reviewed.

These are some cases, discussed either publicly or privately in judge's chambers, or both:

*James Skupien, priest and principal of Bishop Guilfoyle High-School in Altoona, was caught naked in his car with a young man. He remained at the school and since has died.

*Dennis Coleman, a priest in Bellefonte, was hypnotizing boys, removing their shoes and rubbing his penis on their feet. He was told to get some "rest and recreation" and was transferred to St. Benedicts Church in Geistown. He was suspended after Hogan retired in 1987.

The father of one of Coleman's victims was a state trooper, who threatened to shoot Coleman, records show, but criminal charges weren't filed.

*Thomas Carroll, a priest in Altoona, abused boys and was sent to a psychiatrist, but remained a priest until he died in 1988.

*Joseph Gaborek, a priest in Somerset County, fondled boys in 1984. State police reported it to Hogan, but charges were never filed. Hogan told Gaborek to "keep his big mouth shut."

Gaborek was suspended after Hogan retired in 1987.

*William Kovach, a priest in Revloc, molested a boy in 1982. He showed the boy pornographic movies, fondled him and performed oral sex. The parents wanted confidentiality, say court records. Kovach remained a priest and since has retired.

The trial records contain references to Francis McCaa, an Ebensburg priest whose sexual molestation of altar boys led to a private financial settlement, and another unnamed priest with a similar settlement. Both are now retired.

After the trial, Joseph Strittmatter, a retired Altoona priest, was sued by a woman who contends he molested her from the ages of 6 to 14.

Luddy, the defendant in the trial, was found to have sexually molested boys and later defrocked.

Even now, Adamec says he is investigating two new complaints and that, under the terms of the new national bishops' policy, he must remove or otherwise punish at least one or two more priests.

Such an admission breaks the diocese's tradition of shrouding scandals with secrecy, as the Luddy trial shows.

Details come out

The trial began Jan. 31, 1994.

Three months later, the jury found Luddy guilty of sexual abuse and the diocese negligent for ignoring accusations of sexual abuse.

But the jury and the public didn't know everything.

Msgr. Phillip P. Saylor did, and that's why the diocese didn't want him to testify publicly, diocese attorneys told Carpenter.

During a private session March 18, 1994, in Carpenter's office, the record shows that the diocese tried to block Saylor's testimony.

Saylor, former pastor at St. John Gualbert Cathedral in Johnstown and editor of the Catholic Register newspaper for 11 years, was a high-ranking diocese official.

The diocese attorney told the judge he was worried about Saylor testifying because one priest was threatening to commit suicide. Saylor had been called to testify in the cases of Coleman, Carroll and Skupien.

The diocese attorney said that the Coleman case "involved two or three boys who were allegedly hypnotized by Father Coleman, and there was some masturbation, or something going on."

The diocese attorney told the judge that Hogan removed the priest and "told him to take a little sabbatical, a little R and R., and he came back to the parish in October."

Carroll had been sent to a psychiatrist for his misconduct, the diocese attorney told the judge.

The attorney said Skupien was principal of Bishop Guilfoyle from 1977 to 1984.

In 1981, Dean Township police Officer David Metzgar found Skupien and a juvenile undressed in a car. Skupien continued to act as a principal and a priest, the attorney said.

The diocese told the judge that Skupien had an alcohol problem, and that is why he was removed from the school.

"Father Skupien is a homosexual and is now attempting to not be an active homosexual because he knows if he does he's going to be removed. He does not involve himself with pedophiles," the diocese attorney said.

The diocese wanted all of Saylor's testimony kept in chambers with a "calm, little hearing" instead of "exposing a lot of people's names" to the jury.

The judge called Saylor into his chambers and questioned him about the Skupien case.

Saylor said that Blair County Sheriff Larry Field, a personal friend, was a photographer in 1981 when the incident occurred.

"He (Field) indicated to me that the policeman in Dean Township had observed a car down in the woods up on Wopsononock Mountain, and that this policeman discovered that the people in the car were unclothed," Saylor told the judge.

"And when he called in the license number, the license number was registered to the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown," he testified in the closed-door hearing.

Police involved

Saylor said he met with Metzgar, who verified that the car occupants were Skupien and a young man the officer was familiar with from another case.

Saylor's Testimony:

"I went to Bishop Hogan and told him about it and he asked me if I thought that policeman was a Catholic, and I said no, he was not. And that the policeman was very reluctant to come forward, and he asked me if I could persuade him (the officer) to come see him, so I contacted him (the officer) again and he agreed that he would go to see the bishop.

"So then the bishop asked me to ask him if he would come in on a holy day when nobody else was in the chancery, so they wouldn't see the policeman coming in."

Saylor told the judge that Hogan talked to Skupien and then told Saylor "there was nothing to it because Father Skupien explained the situation and the explanation was this:

"He was on a farm up on the mountain with this boy and he was riding a tractor and the tractor upset and he fell into a pond of water.

"And when the policeman came along he was just simply changing his clothes, because the clothes were wet and I remember saying to the bishop you know, then why was the boy changing his clothes, you know. Uh, well, maybe he fell in the pond, too.

"I can remember saying to the bishop, I said bishop, you can't be serious."

The judge suggested bringing in the Dean Township officer, but the attorneys said he was a reluctant witness.

"He's out of state and he informed me yesterday that it was still something he didn't want to come forward on and be the one to nail a priest," said the attorney.

If the court ordered Metzgar to appear, "He said he'd make himself lost."

The attorney said Metzgar had no doubt that the boy in the car was a juvenile.

(When contacted for this article, Metzgar, now a constable in Blair County, said he was not subpoenaed in the Luddy trial. He confirmed that he told the diocese about the Skupien incident.

The diocese attorney challenged the testimony, saying there was no proof that the boy was a minor.

So it never went before a jury.

Saylor also told about Coleman and Carroll, saying parents complained about molestation.

Saylor said he sent Carroll to a psychiatrist when complaints were made about him.

Saylor also recounted police surveillance done by former Altoona police Chief Peter Starr, who developed a list of priests observed picking up young boys near 14th Street. (When contacted for this story, Starr deferred to the court record and said he had no additional comment.)

Saylor told of four boys who were molested in a basement in Altoona, and how the diocese warned a priest to leave the state that night and then allowed him to come back and stay in the diocese.

In each case, top diocese officials, including Hogan, were told, he said.

Hogan testified that state police contacted him about one priest, and that an unnamed Logan Township police officer, and brother of a top-ranking monsignor, contacted him about another.

He said he got help for the priests and kept notes on their misconduct, using a series of dots instead of words in some sentences.

He read one note on court: "Father would engage in immoral familiarity, for example, double beds were never used. Car or basement. Expose and fondle. He with the lad asking the lad to ."

The plaintiff's attorney pressed him on what four dots or three dots meant.

The bishop responded that they were symbols for various sex acts.

'Catholics deceived'

The trial is over, but legal wrangling goes on.

The diocese is appealing the $1 million in punitive damages awarded by the jury.

Carpenter upheld the punitive award, saying it represented just "four months' profit" for the diocese.

And, he said, the testimony overwhelmingly showed negligence.

Even where sexual molestation was not proven in the criminal sense, the diocese either admitted that it occurred or did not deny that it occurred, the judge said.

That's why, he said, the diocese could not argue against the punitive verdict "with a straight face."

Diocese officials did not return phone calls requesting comment on the Luddy trial.

George Foster, a conservative Catholic leader and an Altoona businessman who is also a critic of Adamec, said a retrospective of the Luddy trial shows the deception that has taken place.

"Catholics in this diocese were led to believe that the Luddy case was an isolated incident. We were deceived. As a Catholic, we should never have gone to court. The fact that we scandalized our diocese when we were wrong is beyond comprehension."

Foster said he was shocked at the number of priests mentioned in the court documents.

"I'm blown out of my socks."

 
 

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