State May Lead Priest Probe
By Kathy Mellott
September 16, 2012
The number of people who say they were sexually molested by a priest in the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown is growing, and indications as of late last week are that the investigation and any criminal prosecution of the Rev. George Koharchik may be handled by the office of the state attorney general.
As of Friday, four men had stepped forward to say they were molested by Koharchik, some as long ago as three decades ago, when they were young boys.
On Aug. 24, the diocese announced that Koharchik, 63, a Windber native who was raised in Johnstown, had been placed on leave from active ministry in the priesthood by church leader Bishop Mark Bartchak.
Information regarding the allegations, minus the names of the victims, was turned over to the Cambria County District Attorney's Office for
investigation last month.
Two of them allegedly were molested at unnamed parishes in Cambria County, according to diocesan information and, while investigators are not saying where the two additional boys were abused, it is believed at least one was in a county other than Cambria.
"We are consulting with the attorney general's office because of jurisdictional issues in this case," said Beth Bolton Penna, the Cambria County assistant district attorney handling the allegations.
Two of the alleged victims contacted officials of the diocese at some point, however a time line has not been determined.
Two additional alleged victims have come forward since the diocesan announcement that it was placing Koharchik on leave and outside of any contact with children.
"These are different people who came out as a result of the news stories," Bolton Penna said.
"They said they felt compelled to come forward."
Others reporting molestation to authorities after news of alleged abuse surfaces is not uncommon, said Judy Jones of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP).
"Some others who think they're alone might read about it, then they're going to realize they're not alone," Jones said.
The mother of a man who alleges he was abused as a young boy by Koharchik has reached out to Jones and the SNAP organization.
The unnamed woman just recently learned of the alleged abuse of her son at the hands of Koharchik and she is very distraught, Jones said. "She blames herself. They're dealing with something very, very difficult."
Tony DeGol, secretary of communications for the diocese, said leaders continue to conduct their own investigation into the allegations against Koharchik.
A retired priest has volunteered to take over at St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Mount Union, Koharchik's most recent assignment.
The Rev. Raymond Crosser will pastor the parish and provide daily Mass until a permanent replacement is named, DeGol said.
As for Koharchik, DeGol said he is "On leave until further notice. He cannot publicly function as a priest."
Meanwhile, a review of Koharchik's clerical assignments since his ordination shows he spent much of his first 30 years as a priest at parishes in Cambria County.
A graduate of Bishop McCort High School, Koharchik received a Master of Divinity degree from St. Francis Seminary.
He then spent about a decade at St. Clement in Upper Yoder Township, followed by two years at St. Joseph in Portage and eight years at St. Casimir in Johnstown before he went back to St. Joseph.
In 2000, he was transferred to a parish at the eastern end of the diocese, St. Mary in Shade Gap. In that post, Koharchik also was chaplain at the State Correctional Institute-Huntingdon, according to information provided by a representative of BishopAccountability.org.
Koharchik joins a list of more than two dozens priests associated with the Altoona-Johnstown diocese who have been publicly accused of sex abuse allegations in the past several years, according to an inventory on the bishop accountability website.
The site lists 21 diocesan priests, three Benedictine and one Franciscan priest, with 13 of them named in civil law suits; eight accused; one convicted; and three settled cases.
Koharchik, the most recent posting in the inventory, is listed as "removed without privileges" as pastor from St. Catherine of Siena Parish effective Aug. 12.