‘payout Chart’ for Molestation: Secret Archive Held Chilling Details of Clergy Abuse
By Michelle Boorstein
March 3, 2016
|Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane speaks about the 147-page report on alleged sexual abuse in the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese. The report was made public at a news conference Tuesday. (J.D. Cavrich/Altoona Mirror via AP)|
A Catholic diocese in Pennsylvania announced Thursday that it will post the names online of priests credibly accused of sexually abusing children, a decision that came two days after a dramatic grand jury report alleged a decades-long cover-up.
Advocates hope that the grand jury report, which was announced just two days after the movie “Spotlight” focused national attention on child sexual abuse by winning the Oscar for Best Picture, will lead to new legislation permitting more prosecutions of abusive priests and those who supervised them.
The report relied on a secret archive at the Altoona-Johnstown diocese, which dates back to the 1950s and was opened up this summer when authorities obtained a search warrant. The grand jury interviewed surviving priests and their alleged victims, and compiled a 147-page account detailing accusations against more than 50 religious leaders including priests and teachers.
“These findings are both staggering and sobering. Over many years hundreds of children have fallen victim to child predators wrapped in the authority and integrity of an honorable faith,” the grand jury wrote.
As dramatic as the report’s allegations are, however, it does not recommend criminal charges, mainly because the statute of limitations has expired. The same is true for potential civil cases.
The chilling misdeeds alleged in the report and in “Spotlight,” alongside the lack of charges, highlights the ongoing battle over statutes of limitations, which bar cases from going forward after a set time. Survivors and their advocates say the laws are deeply unfair to victims of sex crimes, who often need decades to voice their experience.
In this report, the grand jury agreed. “The victims of child sexual abuse never escape their victimization; it is inequitable and unjust to allow their victimizers to escape accountability.”
Marci Hamilton, a constitutional law scholar at Yeshiva University and prominent attorney for child sex abuse survivors, said advocates are hopeful that lawmakers will see this past week as more reason to ease the statutes.
State laws vary widely, but in Pennsylvania they ban criminal charges after the victim turns 50, and civil litigation after they turn 30. The grand jury proposed eliminating time limitations for criminal cases altogether.
“Between ‘Spotlight’ and this report, this is the best chance we’ve had in a long time,” Hamilton said Thursday. “There is some momentum for statute reform which has been pending for 10 years. There is an active and insistent movement blocked by the Catholic Church.”
The Pennsylvania Catholic Conference said in a statement that it supports Pennsylvania’s current statue of limitations laws.
The diocese of Altoona-Johnstown, which includes about 90,000 Catholics, on Thursday announced its plans for responding to the report.
Bishop Mark L. Bartchak said in a statement, “Someone recently shared the expression, ‘When you know more, you can do more.’ With the grand jury report, we know more, and we will do more.”
He said that in the interest of transparency, he will publish a list on the diocese’s website of every priest accused of abuse, and will update the list with the current status of the priest. The diocese will also thoroughly review its policies on protecting children, he said.
“I have met with victim-survivors. Their words and their pain have deeply affected me,” Bartchak said.
The grand jury report described the actions of two previous bishops – one of whom has died, and one of whom is retired – as criminal. Both bishops moved known abusers to new assignments where they could harm children again, and pressured law enforcement not to prosecute clergy, the report said.
“Because of their choices and failed leadership hundreds of children suffered,” the grand jury wrote of Bishops James Hogan and Joseph Adamec. “The Bishops returned these monsters to ministry.”
The grand jury offered measured approval of the way Bartchak has handled abuse allegations in his five years as bishop. It focused especially on one priest, who has served since 1973.
In 2002, a man told Bartchak’s predecessor, Adamec, that he had been abused by that priest in 1979 when he was 15 years old. The grand jury said Adamec asked the priest about the incident; the priest told him that he remembered traveling with the teen’s family at the time, but did not remember fondling the boy. The priest went to a Catholic treatment center, then went back to full-time ministry.