Advocates for Sexual-abuse Victims Want Diocese to Fire Nun
By Randy Griffith
March 9, 2016
Supporters of those who were abused by priests kept pressure on Roman Catholic church leadership Tuesday, calling for swift action against those identified in an investigation.
Protestors from the Survivors Network of those Abused By Priests, or SNAP, stood at the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese administration complex to push for changes following last week’s release of a scathing grand jury report by state Attorney General Kathleen Kane.
“We are here because we want Bishop (Mark) Bartchak to fire a nun who was in the grand jury report for being a victims’ advocate,” said Judy Jones, SNAP’s midwest associate director. “It turns out she was more of an advocate for the defense attorneys for the diocese.”
Jones also called for the removal of all members of the diocese Allegations Review Board and for the bishop to work with the attorney general’s office to select replacements on the board.
Jones singled out the Rev. Joseph Byrnes, a board member who refused to answer the grand jury’s questions.
The group also asked for more information about former Bishop Guilfoyle High School librarian Mark Powdermaker, who allegedly used school computers to “download graphic stories of rape and torture” of girls.
Jones’ calls for action went beyond the diocese and the church, blasting law enforcement and court officials, including Cambria County Judge Patrick Kiniry.
“Apparently there was corruption inside law enforcement,” Jones said, noting Kiniry’s resignation from the Bishop McCort Catholic High School board after the grand jury’s report.
Kiniry was an assistant district attorney in the 1980s when a priest, Francis McCaa, was accused of fondling altar boys, the grand jury report said. Kiniry and his boss — then-district attorney Gerald Long — helped Bishop James Hogan transfer McCaa instead of filing charges.
“It sounds like a lot of adults in this area really didn’t care about kids,” Jones said.
Pam Erdley, of Pittsburgh, said she was at the demonstration to encourage other victims to come forward.
Erdley said she was molested by a nun on a sleepover while she was attending Pittsburgh area Bishop Canevin High School in 1972.
When she came forward to church leaders 20 years later, there was no action, she said.
“They listened to my story and offered prayers,” she said, adding that the church leaders promised to contact the alleged perpetrator.
It wasn’t until Erdley attended a victims’ conference that she was able to begin healing, she said.
“That conference changed my life,” Erdley said Tuesday. “I met other victims and realized I was not alone.”
She encourages other survivors to come forward and tell their stories.
“I was suffering in silence,” Erdley said. “Many of those victims out there, I know you feel alone. Once you start telling your story, you realize it wasn’t your fault. And then you begin to heal.”
Randy Griffith is a reporter for The Johnstown Tribune-Democrat. Readers can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org