Cambria County judge among senior officials who ignored reports of sex abuse in Altoona diocese
By Ivey Dejesus
March 8, 2016
|In 2002, a letter detailing information on clergy sex abuse in the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese was sent to three senior law officials, including Cambria County Judge David Tulowitzki (left), who was then District Attorney; Karen Arnold (right), then-Assistant District Attorney in Centre County; and Catherine Miller, then-Assistant District Attorney in Blair County.|
|Bishop Joseph Adamec for decades knew about and concealed the clergy sex abuse in the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese, a grand jury report has found. Adamec failed to take action against abusive priests or moved them around from parish to parish or to other dioceses across the country. In this 2010 file photo, Adamec celebrates Mass at the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament in Altoona.|
It was written by an attorney whose clients, all of them victims of sexual molestation and rape at the hands of priests from the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese, were seeking some form of redress - either criminal charges or at the very least an investigation into their allegations.
The letter was addressed to three law enforcement officials: Cambria County District Attorney David Tulowitzki, who today is a county judge; Karen Arnold, then-assistant district attorney in Centre County; and Catherine Miller, then-assistant district attorney in Blair County.
The four-page letter detailed accounts from young men who said they had been molested or abused by six parish priests in the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese — some over the span of years. One young man was nine years old and serving as an altar boy at Holy Name Church in Ebensburg when Monsignor Francis McCaa began to molest him. The abuse lasted four years.
Richard Serbin, the attorney who wrote the letter to those three officials, never heard back from them.
Now, 14 years later, a grand jury investigation has found that the preponderance of law enforcement authorities to pass on allegations of clergy sex abuse further enabled more than 50 priests to molest hundreds of children over four decades across the diocese of Altoona-Johnstown.
"If people had acted upon learning the facts about the diocese, a lot of children could have been saved," Serbin said. "Authorities knew but did not investigate. They shirked their responsibilities."
Reached at his chambers, Tulowitzki, who is now a judge in the Cambria County Court of Common Pleas, said he had "no personal recollection" of the letter.
He added that he had been advised by President Judge Norman A. Krumenacker III, who is overseeing the grand jury investigation, not to comment.
"The investigation is still ongoing," Tulowitzki said.
Arnold, who specialized in child abuse prosecutions during her time in the district attorney's office, and who ran unsuccessfully for District Attorney in 2009, pointed out that she had not been in the DA's office since 2006.
"It's been more than a decade now," said Arnold, who formally retired in 2007. "It's been a long time since I had any access to that stuff. I'm not comfortable speaking about it."
PennLive was unable to immediately contact Miller, who has retired.
The grand jury report, released last week by Attorney General Kathleen Kane, details the findings of a two-year investigation into allegations of child sexual abuse at the hands of priests and church leaders in the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown. The 147-page report laid out in graphic accounts details of horrific abuse of hundreds of children in the diocese at the hands of more than 50 priests spanning a four-decade timeframe.
The grand jury concluded that church leaders in Altoona-Johnstown, including the late Bishop James Hogan, and his successor retired-Bishop Joseph Adamec, knew for decades about the abuse and concealed it. They either failed to take action against abusive priests or moved them around from parish to parish or to other dioceses across the country. Hogan and Adamec went to lengths to protect the priests, even discrediting victims and their families, the grand jury found.
Senior officials in the criminal justice system also played a part in the failure to remove predator priests and bring them to justice, the report found. Investigators found that in many instances police, district attorneys, even judges looked the other way and allowed the diocese to handle child predators on its own.
"Everybody was giving a pass to this," Serbin said. "It's so tragic."
On Monday, Cambria County Judge Patrick T. Kiniry stepped down from his position in the trustees board at Bishop McCort High School in Johnstown.
The grand jury investigation found that Kiniry had collaborated with diocese church officials to keep silent about the repeated and horrific child sex crimes by Frances McCaa, whom the report called "a monster."
On Thursday, the head of the 90,000-member diocese apologized and promised reforms, including publishing a list of all priests named in credible abuse allegations.
"I acknowledge there are a number of recommendations made in this report involving how we respond to allegations of abuse. I take them seriously," Bishop Mark Bartchak said.
He said the diocese will review its training, background checks and procedures for reporting of abuse allegations to law enforcement.
Serbin wrote the letter to Tulowitzki, Arnold and Miller in response to their requests for additional details regarding information he had previously provided. Serbin suggests that the law enforcement officials should obtain information on the priests named in the letter directly from the diocese.
Serbin wrote the letter even as the much-publicized trial of Francis Luddy was heading to an appellate court, eight years after its commencement in 1994.
In his trial testimony Luddy admitted molesting and sodomizing more than a dozen boys in the diocese. Serbin, in his letter, drew attention to other young men who had been molested by Luddy but were not named in the trial.
Serbin was hoping the information contained in his letter would compel Tulowitzki, Arnold and Miller to launch investigations and bring criminal charges against six priests. All six priests were named in the grand jury investigation released last week. In addition to McCaa and Luddy, they include: Dennis Coleman, a priest assigned to parishes in Bellefonte and to St. Benedict's in Johnstown; Leonard Inman, Joseph Gaborek and Robert Kelly.
Serbin's clients said they molested by all the priests listed in his letter. Over the years he has represented hundreds of victims of clergy sex abuse. For just about every single one of them, the statute of limitations had run out.
Serbin's list of predators continued to expand after he sent the September 2002 letter, he said.
In spite of the fact that he filed civil suits on their behalf in Blair County - some under "John Does," and held news conferences, no further investigations were launched by the three counties' district attorneys.
"What happened was nothing," Serbin said. "It should have prompted further investigation. It's all about the children. The sooner you stop a child predator the quicker you prevent another child from being molested."
Letter to ADAs, DA: Sept. 25, 2002