150 hotline calls after Altoona priest abuse report
By Brandie Kessler
York Daily Record
March 8, 2016
|Brian Gergely, 33, right, and Kevin Hoover, 30, show old photographs of themselves during a news conference in Altoona, Pa., Thursday, Feb. 6, 2003. They said the pictures were taken during the time they allege a Roman Catholic priest sexually abused them while they were altar boys. The men, along with three others, are suing the Altoona-Johnstown diocese, about 80 miles east of Pittsburgh, Bishop Joseph Adamec, and former Bishop Joseph Hogan, claiming the church should have known about the abuse and was negligent. The Pennsylvania Attorney General's office announced a grand jury report outlining how church leaders covered up sexual abuse.|
Photo by Keith Srakocic
In the week since a grand jury report detailed decades of sexual abuse in the Altoona-Johnstown diocese, about 150 calls from victims and others have been made to a hotline, according to Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane's office.
"We're getting calls from all over the country," said Chuck Ardo, spokesman for the office. People from as far as California have called. He noted that the calls have mostly come from victims of sexual abuse who have a connection to the Altoona-Johnstown diocese and who have moved out of the area.
He said none of those calls that he knew of came from people saying they were abused within the Harrisburg diocese, which includes, York, Adams, Franklin and Lebanon counties, among others.
Many of the people are elderly, Ardo said, so the statute of limitations for them has expired. Still, their calls are important. It broadens the office's investigation, which is ongoing, he said.
And, victims who call are put in touch with services.
"A lot of people call because it is the first opportunity they have had as victims to tell their story," Ardo said. "We are getting calls from people who say to us, 'I have never told anybody about this.' I think for a lot of people, the ability to make this call is cathartic."
He said the attorney general's office will do anything in its power to help victims get the assistance they need.
The hotline number is 888-538-8541. It is being manned by investigators who worked directly on the Altoona-Johnstown investigation, from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.
That investigation led to a grand jury report issued last week that detailed the sexual abuse of hundreds of children by priests over at least 40 years.
Investigators answering calls are encouraging victims to contact the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape, which can connect them to counseling and therapy services, according to a news release from the attorney general's office. Victims can also call 888-772-7227 to find a local rape crisis center, according to PCAR's website.
The attorney general's office has said that none of the criminal conduct detailed in the grand jury’s report can be prosecuted at this time, because the statute of limitations on the child sex abuse offenses has expired, abusers are deceased or because victims are unable to testify.
Still, Kane said in a news release, victims are encouraged to call the hotline. “One call could change everything ... The right information could create a new lead for our investigators."
Ardo said it's tragic that the hotline has gotten so many calls in the first week. "I think it's an indication of how many victims remain out there and who have remained silent for who knows how long."