Kane Knew of Alleged Sex Abuse by Johnstown-area Priest in 2013
By Brad Bumsted
March 4, 2016
|Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane discusses a grand jury report detailing sexual abuse in the Altoona-Johnstown Catholic Diocese during a news conference at the Blair County Convention Center on Tuesday, March 1, 2016.|
Attorney General Kathleen Kane was told about sexual abuse allegedly committed by a Johnstown-area priest shortly after she took office in January 2013 — about 14 months before her office began a grand jury investigation of abuse in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown, a top aide confirmed Friday.
But the case was a dead end because “one victim didn't cooperate and the statute of limitations already expired,” said Executive Deputy Attorney General Lawrence Cherba. “It was one case. It didn't lead us any place.”
The case Kane knew about in 2013 involved George Koharchik, who was called a “child predator” in the grand jury report released Tuesday. He would grope children in the car after playing Bill Cosby tapes in which the word “penis” was discussed to desensitize boys to sexual language, his victims alleged. He admitted to sleeping, showering and wrestling with kids and having kids sit on his lap, the report said.
He denied “predatory” activity but admitted obtaining sexual gratification from some touching of victims' “intimate parts,” the grand jury said. He's listed as suspended from active ministry.
Cherba attended a meeting in January 2013 when former Chief Deputy Frank Fina, in an exit interview with Kane and about 10 top staffers, identified the priest abuse scandal as one of the top cases.
Fina told Kane a grand jury would be needed. During her 2012 campaign, Kane said she opposed using grand juries in sexual assault cases.
Kane has said she will not seek re-election in November. She is charged with felony perjury, obstruction of justice and official oppression, allegedly for leaking grand jury material from a 2009 case that prosecutors say was intended to embarrass Fina. She denies any wrongdoing. Her trial is set for August.
No one has been charged as a result of the grand jury investigation that revealed this week stunning allegations of hundreds of victims sexually abused by at least 50 priests over four decades. Many of the priests had died or the statute of limitations expired, the report said. Two bishops covered up the cases to protect the church, said Kane, a Roman Catholic.
Asked whether opening the case in a broader way and 14 months sooner would have made a difference, Cherba said, “I don't believe so. I don't think that's true.”
The office had no evidence of systemic abuse at that point, he said.
The Koharchik case was referred to the attorney general by Cambria County District Attorney Kelly Callihan in September 2012 under former Attorney General Linda Kelly, and it was assigned to a prosecutor. The Attorney General's Office needs a referral for jurisdiction on local crimes, which usually comes from district attorneys because of issues of inadequate resources or conflicts.
Repeated efforts to reach Callihan were unsuccessful.
The grand jury investigation was opened in April 2014 upon receipt of another case from Callihan, this one about Franciscan Brother Stephen Baker, who killed himself. He died the same day in January 2014 that the church announced an $8 million settlement with 88 of his victims. Kane had announced 10 days earlier that her office was investigating based on Callihan's referral.
George Foster, a Catholic executive at Lamar Advertising who began his own investigation in 2004, said he still believes diocese officials will be prosecuted.
The grand jury report and Kane aides in interviews suggested there was a delay by Callihan in sending the formal referral on Baker.
“Callihan had spoken about the related Baker investigation involving Bishop McCort Catholic High School on various occasions in 2013; the matter was referred in total to the OAG in early 2014,” the grand jury said.
“There was verbal contact with the office (by Callihan) for almost a year,” Cherba said. “I kept saying to people here, where is the referral? We just kept reading about it in the papers.” To act without it “would be outside the scope of the attorney general's jurisdiction,” he said.
Brad Bumsted is the Tribune-Review's state Capitol reporter.