Lead investigator in priest sex-abuse case urges law reform
By Dave Marcheskie
March 2, 2016
HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – The lead prosecutor in a grand jury investigation that alleges widespread child sexual abuse in the Altoona-Johnstown Catholic diocese is calling for changes to the state law that sets time limits on charging offenders.
The grand jury found two former bishops worked to conceal the abuse of hundreds of children by at least 50 priests and other religious leaders for 40 years or more.
“What struck me was in some ways the way that it happened in broad daylight,” Deputy Attorney General Daniel Dye said. “Some of these priests were seen in groups of young boys in parishes and they got away with it because they were priests.”
Dye said the attorney general’s office began to investigate in 2014 when the Cambria County district attorney’s office referred the case to the state, citing a conflict of interest because the DA is Catholic. He said the county was investigating sex abuse allegations against a friar when authorities in the DA’s office realized the scope.
In cases such as sex abuse, the attorney general’s office does not have jurisdiction unless a district attorney refers a case.
“Across the 67 counties of Pennsylvania, district attorneys can feel that they have a conflict or apparent conflict and refer a case,” he said.
Dye believes the Altoona-Johnstown diocese actively worked to keep the alleged abuse hidden, a reason why it took so long to investigate.
“Bishops, heads of the diocese, took steps to hide the abuse that was happening to children in an effort to preserve the image of the institution,” he said.
Uncovering all of this without an opportunity to prosecute or take anyone to trial is frustrating, Dye says. He believes the statute of limitations should be changed, a recommendation the grand jury made in its report.
Dye agreed that child sex crimes should have the same weight as homicide, which has no statute of limitations.
“Homicides, the person is gone forever,” he said. “With child abuse, they’re still here, but in many ways, they are gone.”
Dye said even though he was unable to pursue justice in the courts, victims he spoke with believe there’s justice in exposing the truth.
“The continued need to push this issue, to expose what happened, to let victims know that they have a voice and that people are going to hear about it,” he said.
Dye encouraged any victim to reach out to the attorney general’s office at 1-888-538-8541. By Wednesday evening, he said more than 100 people had called the office to report abuse in the diocese.