What about Allentown Diocese?

By Steve Esack and Laurie Mason Schroeder
The Morning Call
March 1, 2016

Nationwide, grand juries were used to investigate abuse claims against Roman Catholic priests in just seven places. The Lehigh Valley was not one of them.

Instead, Valley prosecutors in 2002 asked the Allentown Diocese for its priest-abuse files after then-Bishop Edward Cullen announced he was removing a few priests from active duty. The diocese serves 270,000 Catholics in Lehigh, Northampton, Carbon, Berks and Schuylkill counties.

In 2002, the diocese turned over to the district attorneys in the five-county area every file it had involving any abuse claim, spokesman Matt Kerr said. At that time, Kerr said, the diocese also promised to report to law enforcement every sex abuse claim, no matter how old.

After his review, Lehigh County District Attorney Jim Martin said in 2002 that eight abuse claims had occurred in Lehigh County but could not be prosecuted because of deaths or the cases were too old.

"I am satisfied that the Diocese of Allentown has fully cooperated with my request for information," Martin said then. "I see no necessity to invoke the powers of an investigating grand jury. In my view, there is no need to seek by subpoena that which has already been provided voluntarily."

About three years later, Martin was asked to conduct a grand jury by Juliann Bortz of Lower Macungie Township, local coordinator for Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

"Other cities were doing it and we felt that something was there, that they didn't see everything," she said.

Bortz said Martin listened to her and the other SNAP members for about 30 minutes but told them that that he would not be going on a "fishing expedition."

In an interview Tuesday, Martin said people should not assume the Allentown Diocese had the same practices as Altoona-Johnstown. A grand jury report released Tuesday accuses two bishops who ran the Catholic diocese there of allowing at least 50 priests and other religious leaders to sexually abuse hundreds of children for decades.

Since 2002, the Allentown Diocese also has forwarded to his office every complaint against a priest or other employer, Martin said. None has been prosecutable, Martin said.

"I think the Catholic Diocese of Allentown has been acting responsibly by sending me reports about virtually anything that smacks of abuse of any nature, and where appropriate we investigate that," he said.

After his own 2002 investigation, Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli said he too found no basis for criminal charges against church officials who oversaw priests. Tuesday he recounted his 2002 review.

"We went through boxes and boxes of files," he said. "We identified a number of priests who might have been prosecuted back in the day, but by that time too many years had gone by for there to be anything we could prosecute."

Berks County District Attorney John Adams, who was not in the office when the 2002 investigation took place, said the diocese also keeps his office informed of any new complaints. None has warranted an arrest, he said.

"Our Catholic schools have also been very responsive about reports of abuse," Adams said. "The diocese has a good track record in Berks County."

District attorneys of Carbon and Schuylkill counties did not return calls Tuesday for comment.

Since 2002, spokesman Kerr said, the Allentown diocese also has worked to train thousands of children and adults on how to spot and report sex abuse.

The Allentown Diocese allowed the five district attorneys to review the personnel files of 23 accused priests, at least two of whom had been charged criminally in the late 1980s and '90s. A few weeks later, the diocese opened the file of a 24th priest. In addition, the prosecutors asked for the files of more than a dozen other priests. The diocese had more than 300 priests at that time.








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