Dioceses Brace for Release of Child Sexual Abuse Report
By Dave Sutor
May 18, 2018
|Shaun Dougherty poses during an interview on Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2016, at The Tribune-Democrat, 425 Locust St., Johnstown. Doughtery claims that he was sexually abused by the former Rev. George Koharchik, a priest from St. Clement Church. Koharchik was included in a grand jury report, released in March, that detailed abuse across the Roman Catholic Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown.|
A report from a grand jury investigation into alleged child sexual abuse in six of Pennsylvania’s Roman Catholic dioceses might soon be released.
Bishops from Erie, Allentown and Scranton said they will not attempt to prevent the information from becoming public. Erie even named 51 priests and other laypersons – both living and deceased – who were accused of abuse or failing to protect children.
Harrisburg and Greensburg issued separate statements saying they support releasing the report, but want to ensure due process. However, both dioceses are making a court challenge to the oath of secrecy placed on lawyers representing grand jury witnesses, according to an article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Bishop David Zubik, from the Diocese of Pittsburgh, told the Post-Gazette he does not oppose making the information known, but he wants to “read, review and respond” to the document first.
The secret investigation, which has been overseen by the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General since 2016, followed a grand jury examination into how the Roman Catholic Diocese of Altoona–Johnstown carried out a concerted effort to shield predator priests for decades.
“We have seen the statements from the dioceses of Harrisburg, Pittsburgh and Greensburg,” said Joe Grace, spokesman for Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, in a statement sent to The Tribune-Democrat.
“We look forward to actions from the Dioceses of Harrisburg, Pittsburgh and Greensburg which match their words.”
“We stand on our previous public statements – Attorney General Josh Shapiro commends Bishops (Joseph) Bambera of Scranton, (Alfred) Schlert of Allentown and (Lawrence) Persico of Erie for not mounting a challenge that would silence the voices of victims of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church.”
Several individuals who were involved in the Altoona–Johnstown scandal have been closely following developments in the current investigation.
“I hear it’s going to be a jarring report,” said Shaun Dougherty, an advocate for abuse victims, who, as a child, was assaulted by a local priest in the Johnstown area. “I’ve heard from many victims that have testified – and without mentioning anything they testified to – I would warn the Catholic faithful that they should prepare themselves because this could be worse than Altoona-Johnstown, if that’s possible.”
Robert Hoatson, founder of Road to Recovery, an organization that assist victims, said “I think Pittsburgh’s may be one of the worst.”
The investigation into the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese did not result in any prosecutions of alleged child abusers because, either the statute of limitations had expired or the accused was dead.
The Revs. Robert D’Aversa, 70, and Anthony Criscitelli, 63, pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor charges of endangering the welfare of children.
In their roles as ministers provincial of the Blair County-based Third Order Regular, Province of the Immaculate Conception, D’Aversa and Criscitelli gave Brother Stephen Baker, a Franciscan friar, assignments where he had access to children even though they knew he presented a danger.
They were the first religious order members in Pennsylvania to be sentenced for protecting clergy who abused children. Both were sentenced to five years probation and fined $1,000 apiece and costs of prosecution.
Settlements were reached with more than 90 victims Baker abused when he officially served at Bishop McCort High School in Johnstown from 1992-2000 and still had access after that time. Baker reportedly committed suicide in January 2013 after information of his abuse started to become publicly known.
An investigation into his actions led to the attorney general’s office taking a look into the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese as a whole. The investigation into Altoona-Johnstown has never been officially closed.
“I’d be shocked if there wasn’t more coming out about the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese,” Dougherty said.
Grand jury reports about abuse in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia were issued in 2005 and 2011.