About 150 calls have been made to a hotline to report information related to abuse by religious leaders in the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese, Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane said today.
The phone line, manned by investigators from the attorney general’s office, was established last week when a 147-page grand jury report was released detailing child sexual abuse by dozens of priests over at least 40 years and allegedly concealed by diocese leaders. The report included priests who served at State College and Bellefonte churches.
“The victims need to be heard,” Kane said. “In many cases, they have waited years to speak about the abuse they suffered. We want to assure them that they will be taken seriously.”
Kane said many of the calls have been placed by individuals who had not previously spoken with investigators and said they were abused by religious leaders in the diocese. Numerous calls were from senior citizens.
The hotline -- 888-538-8541 -- is answered by investigators from 8 a.m.-9 p.m.
No criminal charges resulted from the grand jury report, due to statute of limitations, deaths of alleged abusers and inability of victims to testify. Kane said, however, the investigation is ongoing and her office will continue to pursue new leads.
“One call could change everything,” Kane said. “The right information could create a new lead for our investigators. That is why it is so important for those with information to reach out to us.”
Following the release of the grand jury report last week, Altoona-Johnstown Bishop Mark Bartchak, who was not accused of wrongdoing, delivered an apology and offered a plan for change within the diocese, including a comprehensive policy review, commitment to reporting in writing all allegations of abuse to authorities and public transparency.
During weekend masses, priests at churches in the State College area and across the diocese read a letter from Bartchak in which he spoke of the suffering of victims as well as the hurt and anger of people in the diocese and elsewhere. He encouraged Catholics not to turn away from their faith. The full letter can be read here.
Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown parishes are located within eight counties -- Bedford, Blair, Cambria, Centre, Clinton, Fulton, Huntingdon and Somerset. There are more than 90,000 Catholics in the area the Diocese covers.