March 30, 2019
By Josh Shapirao
Something extraordinary happened last Monday in Courtroom 3 in the Cambria County Courthouse in Ebensburg.
Over three hours, the statements of 18 victims who were sexually assaulted as young children by a powerful man in Johnstown – Dr. Johnnie Barto, a local pediatrician – were read aloud into the court record.
The collective voices of these brave survivors, describing Barto’s assaults and how it impacted them, were heard – many for the first time in their lives.
“Some may inquire why I hadn’t come forward sooner,” wrote one survivor, who was 5 years old when Dr. Barto assaulted her in his doctor’s office. “The answer is simple – I wasn’t strong enough. But I prayed for the opportunity to use my voice. Finally, my opportunity has come.”
Once every victim’s statement was read aloud, justice was delivered: Cambria County Judge Patrick Kiniry powerfully imposed a sentence of 79 years to 158 years in prison on Dr. Barto for his sexual assaults committed against 31 victims over many years.
After the sentencing, I met with Dr. Barto’s victims and their families in the courthouse.
This is some of what I shared with them.
A reckoning is underway in Pennsylvania and across the United States. From Hollywood to the news industry, from universities to the Catholic church, the time of protecting powerful institutions over people is ending. After a lifetime of not being believed, victims and survivors are being heard – and real action is happening as a result.
In Pennsylvania, a grand jury investigated the rampant sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests in six dioceses, took testimony from many victims, and released a groundbreaking report last August that identified 301 predator priests, more than 1,000 victims, and an institutional cover-up running all the way to the Vatican. My office led that investigation.
Across the United States, 16 other state attorneys general have publicly acknowledged opening investigations into sexual abuse by clergy, and more than 1,000 predator priests have been identified in credible allegations. I have spoken personally with 45 attorneys general on how we conducted our probe.
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