By Dave Sutor
The Catholic Church is deeply ingrained in the Johnstown region’s identity.
Worshipers have celebrated and mourned together, lived lives of virtue, served their communities, and raised their children in the faith – all within the framework of the institution. But, that same structure allowed countless acts of alleged child sexual abuse to take place – and be covered up – in the opinion of Robert Hoatson, founder of Road to Recovery, a New Jersey-based advocacy group.
Earlier this year, the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General released a report that accused the Roman Catholic Diocese of Altoona–Johnstown of perpetrating a decades-long conspiracy to shield priests and other religious leaders who preyed upon children.
The investigation started after the office learned Brother Stephen Baker allegedly abused students when he served at what was then Bishop McCort High School in the 1990s.
Hoatson is a former Irish Christian Brother and Roman Catholic priest who was laicized – had his privileges withdrawn – in 2011 after challenging the church for allowing abuse and coverups to occur.
“In 40 years of being inside the church, and then obviously now five years outside the organization of the church, I have never seen a phenomenon quite like Stephen Baker and the affect he’s had on a geographic section or area of our country,” Hoatson said in a meeting with The Tribune-Democrat.
“Having been here so long now on different occasions, it’s almost as if these beautiful hills around here – or mountains, whatever you call them – a dome was put over it, and the secret was kept in here for so many decades that, even today, it’s the hardest place I’ve experienced to get people to talk about it.”
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