Pervasive sex abuse by priests found in Altoona-Johnstown area

By Dave Sutor
March 1, 2016

ALTOONA - At least 50 priests and religious leaders from the Altoona-Johnstown Roman Catholic Diocese in western Pennsylvania sexually abused hundreds of children since the 1950s, a state grand jury report has concluded.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane released the 147-page report Tuesday at a news conference. She described the findings as “heinous crimes” that were “absolutely unconscionable.”

The grand jury investigated sexual abuse in the diocese for two years in response to complaints. It said the inquiry concluded the findings were “both staggering and sobering,” disclosing a “dark and disturbing history.”

The diocese covers eight counties and 89 parishes. They serve more than 94,000 Catholics in the region.

The Pennsylvania grand jury report comes 12 years after the Boston Globe disclosed widespread abuse by pedophile priests in the Boston Roman Catholic Archdiocese. The  scandal, which spread to many Catholic parishes in the U.S. and elsewhere, was portrayed in the recent popular movie “Spotlight,” a winner on Sunday of  Academy Awards for best picture and best original screenplay.

Pennsylvania Investigators said they discovered more than 115,000 documents, along with electronic data, showing complaints about abusive priests and superiors transferring them from parish to parish. A safe in the bishop’s office contained what they described as a “secret archive” of victim statements and information from former Bishops Joseph Adamec and James Hogan.

The grand jury said its investigation covered the years from the 1950s to present. Some of the abusive priests are now dead and others were dismissed from the priesthood.

 “As wolves disguised as the shepherds themselves – these men stole the innocence of children by sexually preying upon the most innocent and vulnerable members of our society and of the Catholic faith,” said the grand jury report.

The area's most well-known cases of priest pedophilia were noted, including the Rev. James Bunn, who was accused of engaging in sexual intercourse with a child multiple times when he was parish priest at St. Andrew Roman Catholic Church in Johnstown. He later became principal of what was then called Bishop McCort High School.

The case of the Rev. Francis Luddy, who was dismissed from the priesthood after he reportedly sexually abused at least 10 children between 1969 and 1984, was pointed out in the report multiple times.

“Perhaps no single priest is a better representation of the misguided direction of church leadership than the mishandling of the Father Francis Luddy matter,” the report concludes.

“Faced with an onslaught of evidence that Luddy had raped the church's most vulnerable souls, church leadership chose to wrap themselves in lawyers and litigation rather than hold Francis Luddy accountable.”

The report includes information about at least three cases that have been active in the past few months.

The Rev. Joseph Maurizio, a former priest at Our Lady Queen of Angels in Central City, was convicted last year of abusing children at a Honduran orphanage that he supported.

Then, earlier this month, the diocese suspended the Rev. David J. Arseneault and the the Rev. James B. Coveney in what Bishop Mark Bartchak called a “precautionary measure,” as an investigation is conducted into allegations they committed sexual abuse more than 20 years ago.


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