Altoona Diocese Sex Abuse Hotline So Swamped with Calls, a Second Line Is Established
By Ivey DeJesus
March 3, 2016
|The Attorney General's office this week used a chart graphic to detail what it says is 40 years of the sexual molestation of children in the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese at the hands of priests and church leaders. The Attorney General's office has dedicated a second hotline for calls pertaining to the investigation. (Mark Pynes/PennLive)|
The volume of calls to the hotline set up to field calls regarding the investigation into child sexual abuse by priests and religious leaders in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Altoona?Johnstown has been so high, authorities have set up another line.
State Attorney General Kathleen Kane on Thursday said the hotline had, within 24 hours of being established, received approximately 80 calls, and that the call volume was increasing so rapidly, another dedicated line was opened.
"The information is coming in as we expected it to," Kane said on Thursday.
The hotline - 888-538-8541 - was established amid the release of a grand jury report documenting the rape of hundreds of children by diocese leaders over 40 years. The report, released Monday, found that more than 50 priests and leaders from the eight-county diocese had for decades molested children, the youngest of them six years old. The report found that, in some cases, law enforcement authorities had given the diocese on pass and opted not to investigate further.
The investigation is ongoing, and officials from Kane's office have indicated that one phone call could change everything. The statute of limitation has expired for all the cases detailed in the grand jury report, Kane said. Richard Serbin, an Altoona attorney who has handled hundreds of cases involving victims of sexual abuse from the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese told PennLive on Wednesday that he knows of scores of cases involving priests who are not named in the grand jury report and for whom, the law could still be applicable.
reporter.jpg A reporter looks at a chart of the results of a Pennsylvania Grand Jury investigation into the child sexual abuse by over 50 priests in the Altoona-Johnstown diocese over the past 40 years. March 1, 2016 at the Blair County Convention Center in Altoona, Pa. Mark Pynes | firstname.lastname@example.org
Kane has assured potential callers that that they "will be taken seriously."
The head of Philadelphia SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests), Karen Polesir, said each call to the hotline could potentially lead to more predator priests being exposed or punished.
" . . . Every call represents a troubled person heading towards help and potentially exposing more priests, nuns, bishops, seminarians and other church staff who have committed or concealed heinous crimes," Polesir said.
"Calling the AG's hotline is the best course of action for anyone with any knowledge or suspicions about child sex crimes or cover ups."
Polesir urged anyone who was reluctant to break their silence - particularly employees, to tell someone.
"It's crucial that no one stays quiet while this investigation proceeds," she said. "We implore current and former Catholic employees to find the courage to call. Please stop being part of the problem. Please start being part of the solution."
Poliser stressed that any "seemingly insignificant" piece of information could prove crucial to law enforcement.
"It's also liberating for many when they do summon the strength to pick up the phone and disclose information or suspicions about abuse," she said.
SNAP is urging anyone who may be a victim or who may have information about the abuse to refrain from calling church officials.
"Often, when Catholic staff learn of abuse, they re-double their efforts to keep a lid on it," Poliser said. "Sometimes, they intimidate victims, threaten whistleblowers, discredit witnesses, destroy evidence, and even help predators flee overseas."
The grand jury investigation found that church officials, including Bishop James Hogan and Bishop Joseph Adamec for years knew of the allegations and even kept files of the information but concealed it. In some cases, they influenced law enforcement to dismiss the cases.