Pennsylvania prosecutor fights clergy sex abuse as she maintains Catholic faith

Religion News Service

February 27, 2019

By Bobby Ross Jr.

When allegations of past sexual abuse were first made against a priest at St. Clement Catholic Church in Johnstown, Pa., Cambria County District Attorney Kelly Callihan recognized the name immediately. The Rev. George Koharchik had been her family’s pastor for the decade he served at St. Clement’s, from 1974 to 1984.

When each of her four eldest siblings got married, “he had such a connection with us that he came back to do the weddings,” Callihan, the sixth of nine children, recalled in a recent interview at her second-floor courthouse office.

But Callihan, 50, knew the victims, too: They were friends and former classmates in this western Pennsylvania county — a farming and coal-mining area hit hard by the steel industry’s decline and the opioid epidemic.

“I didn’t falter for a second in believing and understanding” the stories of abuse, Callihan told Religion News Service. “You could just hear the pain that they were going through.”

Callihan ended up referring Koharchik’s case, as well as separate sex abuse claims involving a Franciscan friar, to Pennsylvania’s attorney general. “I knew that I didn’t have the resources in a small prosecutor’s office to take on an investigation of this magnitude,” Callihan said. Also, she said, “I was too close to home with knowing a lot of these victims.”

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