Cambria Co. DA Credited for Bringing Abuse to Light
By Maria Miller
March 1, 2016
A new grand jury report claims two Roman Catholic bishops in a central Pennsylvania diocese helped cover up the sexual abuse of hundreds of children by over 50 priests or religious leaders over a 40-year period.
The 147-page report on sexual abuse in the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese was made public Tuesday by Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane.
Kane says none of the alleged criminal acts can be prosecuted because some abusers have died, statutes of limitations have run their course and victims are too traumatized to testify.
The investigation unveiled Tuesday started in Cambria County allegations of sexual abuse stemming from a Catholic high school in Johnstown.
Kane said the Cambria County district attorney was concerned that officials from that school, Bishop McCort Catholic High School, as well as the Johnstown Police Department and the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown failed to report child abuse at the hands of Brother Stephen Baker, a former coach and athletic trainer accused of molesting students in the '90s.
Baker is not named in the report released Tuesday as one of the alleged abusers. It's not clear if that's because he wasn't an actual priest, if it's because he worked for an order outside of the diocese or if it's because he's now deceased, but according to Kane he may be the basis for this investigation.
Baker's alleged victims coming forward and the district attorney turning that case over to the AG seems to be the reason the investigation started.
"I knew this was going to be a multi-county investigation," said Cambria County District Attorney Kelly Callihan.
It was 2014 after the news of settlements at a school in Ohio that former Bishop McCort Catholic High School students came forward alleging abuse at the hands Baker, a Franciscan friar who served as an athletic trainer and coach at the Johnstown school in the '90s.
"I only have jurisdiction in Cambria County," Callihan said. "It was hard for me to know where it would go but what I did know is that I did not have the manpower or resources to take on a grand jury investigation."
But Callihan told 6 News Tuesday that Baker wasn't the first referral clergy sex abuse in Cambria County that she made. She said she brought another name forward three years before.
"The referral was on the allegations that came forward about Father (George) Koharchik," she said.
Those allegations were never revealed in detail, but the diocese suspended Koharchik one year later while he was serving at St. Catherine of Sienna parish in Mount Union, Huntingdon County. Koharchik is listed as one of the 50 or so priests and religious leaders accused of child sexual abuse by Kane on Tuesday.
"Everything in the grand jury is secret so it's not like we get updated reports," Callihan said. "I'm learning of the findings of this investigation like you today."
Callihan said she took the same procedure in 2014 when she became aware of allegations against Baker. Until Tuesday though, she said she didn't know what would happen when the investigation left her office.
"I feel today very relieved that I made the decision to carry on the Brother Baker matter. Because of his death there was that quandary we were in because we couldn't really do anything about his conduct at that time; he was dead. We knew we couldn't charge him but I just did not feel right in my heart letting that go," she said. "Seeing the extent of the damage that was done in Cambria County to know that at the point that I referred this, there was no way to know there was that much abuse going on for that many years."
Callihan is a practicing Catholic herself and said the reason why she couldn't pursue the case against Koharchik is because he was her priest. On Tuesday she said she is furious to learn everything in the report.
She said changes have to be made in the diocese on how they handle abuse, but also said she can already see a change locally. She said Bishop Mark Bartchak was very involved with discussion involving Koharchik and was the one who suspended him.