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  No Cover-up Was Involved, Adamec Says

By Susan Evans
The Tribune-democrat
March 11, 2003

Altoona-Johnstown (PA)

Breaking months of silence, the bishop of Altoona-Johnstown Roman Catholic Diocese is for the first time publicly acknowledging sex abuse allegations against 13 priests.

Bishop Joseph Adamec maintains he has handled each case properly and that his decision to privately handle some of the accusations is not a cover-up.

"But no matter what or how much I do, it is not going to be the right thing or enough in everyone's eyes," he wrote in a first-person column and a two-page narrative published in the current issue of the diocese publication, The Catholic Register.

In the column, Adamec blamed reporters for disseminating "disinformation" and accused critics of having "an agenda" against the church.

He also denied issuing a gag order to priests and threatening them with punishment that could include excommunication if they publicly disagree with him.

But Adamec acknowledged a "verbal presentation" last fall in which he told priests they will be punished for encouraging "public dissent against the Church."

All 13 priests have been identified in sex abuse lawsuits or by victims, and the names and accusations have been published in The Tribune-Democrat.

Conservative Catholic leader George Foster disputed the bishop's statements.

"There is a pattern of the diocese ignoring complaints and only taking substantial action once they become public," he said yesterday during a telephone interview from his Altoona business office.

"We are led to believe investigations are going on for years, so long that several priests have died in the process. I have received allegations of inappropriate sexual misconduct for at least 20 priests who are still serving," he said.

David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, called the bishop's statements "a self-serving attack on the messenger."

Catholic Register mentions now-defrocked Francis Luddy, the priest found guilty of sex abuse in a 1994 civil trial, and outlines sex abuse allegations against 12 other priests: Bernard Grattan, Leonard Inman, Robert Kelly, William Kovach, Francis McCaa, Martin McCamley, James Skupien, Joseph Bender, James Bunn, Thomas Carroll, Dennis Coleman and Joseph Gaborek.

Adamec wrote that the diocese is paying for therapy for several victims of past sex abuse, including some who are plaintiffs in lawsuits against the diocese.

Foster said the bishop's statement contradicts the diocese position that sex abuse has not been a systemic problem.

"We are paying for counseling for people we don't believe were abused," he said. "Paying implies guilt. Honest people don't repeatedly pay off liars. There must be more to this.

"These cases are only old because the diocese has made them so with delays, promises and hush money. People ask why some victims waited so long to come forward. The answer is some didn't. They have been asking for justice for 15 years, and they only went public now because nothing credible was being done."

The bishop's column said he is committed to "reporting to civil authorities cases that need to be reported."

"We continue to be in contact with the lead district attorney within the eight counties of the diocese," Adamec wrote. "It is our understanding that he feels that we are in compliance with his expectations. Yet it continues to be reported that I have gone back on my word in that regard."

The statute of limitations for criminal prosecution of the 13 individual priests named has expired, district attorneys have said.

But in June, Blair County District Attorney Dave Gorman said he wanted the diocese to turn over all reported cases of child sexual abuse, even old cases in which the statute of limitations had expired.

"If there is any incident of abuse - past or present - they should be reported to law enforcement," he said then.

In interviews in January, Gorman said that the diocese has not reported any old cases to him in his role as lead prosecutor.

Gorman yesterday did not return tele-phone calls seeking his reaction to Adamec's statement.

Adamec writes that bishops wish they "would have known what we now know about the treatment of offenders and victims." He emphasized that allegations of sexual abuse of a minor by a priest have not occurred since he became bishop in 1987.

Clohessy, in a statement issued in response to the articles, took exception to Adamec's statement that there are no active priests within the diocese with current allegations that have been substantiated.

"The charter adopted by U.S. bishops last year calls for openness and transparency," he said. "Why not tell us who they are and how many?"

Adamec's articles issue a plea for sex abuse victims to come forward if they haven't already, and he writes that he worries about the effect the scandal has had on church members.

"In my role as a diocesan bishop and shepherd of this particular Church, I am called to act as a kind father, all the while staying within the framework of the Code of Canon Law, as well as civil law," Adamec's column says.

"I honestly try to do that. It has been a challenge, to say the least."

In response, Foster issued a plea for action.

"We must clean our own house," he said. "There are far more good priests who lead exemplary lives, but they now need to roll up their sleeves and help with this process."
 
 
 

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