Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Bishop Mark L. Bartchak & Bishop Joseph Adamec:Pennsylvania Bishops Hid Hundreds of Child Sex Abuse Cases

Two Roman Catholic bishops helped cover up sexual abuse of hundreds of children by more than 50 priests and religious leaders at a central Pennsylvania diocese over four decades, according to a grand jury report made public Tuesday.

None of the alleged crimes can be prosecuted because either the accused abusers have died or the statute of limitations has run out, said Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane, who released the 147-page report. She said some victims were too traumatized to testify in court.

However, Ms. Kane said the investigation into the diocese, which covers eight counties in the middle of the state and includes Altoona and Johnstown, is active and that charges could be considered in the future.

“These predators desecrated a sacred trust and preyed upon their victims in the very places where they should have felt most safe,” Ms. Kane said. “At the very least we must continue to shine a light on this long period of abuse and despicable conduct.”

The diocese released a statement saying that it is reviewing the report and that it will continue to cooperate with the investigation. It said its youth-protection policy requires that all allegations of abuse by clergy be reported to civil authorities.

“This is a painful and difficult time in our Diocesan Church,” said Bishop Mark L. Bartchak, current bishop of the diocese. “I deeply regret any harm that has come to children, and I urge the faithful to join me in praying for all victims of abuse.”

The diocese, which was established in 1901, contains 89 parishes, 74 active priests and 36 permanent deacons, according to its website. There are more than 90,000 Catholics living in the eight-county area, the attorney general’s office said.

The grand jury found that Bishop James Hogan and his successor, Bishop Joseph Adamec, covered up the alleged abuse, enabling it to continue for decades. Bishop Hogan died in 2005.

David Berardinelli, an attorney for Bishop Adamec, who retired in 2011, said in a statement that the bishop “deeply regrets any harm that has come to children who were victimized.”

A response filed by Bishop Adamec’s attorney called allegations that he tried to cover up abuse unfounded and said the grand jury didn’t review key evidence.

The bishop followed a process in which he confronted accused priests, met with alleged victims whenever possible, and relied on the advice of psychiatric professionals to decide whether to allow priests to remain in active ministry, Mr. Berardinelli wrote. From 1987 to 2002, nine of 14 priests accused of abuse in the diocese were suspended from public ministry or retired and were prohibited from public ministry. There were no future accusations against the other five priests, his lawyer wrote.

“The actual evidence demonstrates that Bishop Adamec consistently placed a high priority on ensuring the protection of children,” Mr. Berardinelli wrote.

Investigators who searched a diocese office last August found what Ms. Kane described as a secret archive in a safe, as well as boxes and filing cabinets full of confidential litigation files and other documents detailing allegations of sexual abuse by priests, including molestation, oral sex and the use of pornography and alcohol.

In one letter to Bishop Adamec in 1991, cited by the grand jury report, a man said he had been abused by a priest roughly 100 times in the 1970s after being brought to the priest’s bedroom when he was an altar boy. The priest was permitted to resign his active duties in 1992, and his actions were never reported to the police, the report said.

According to notes allegedly kept by Bishop Adamec and excerpted in the grand jury report, the priest admitted to the bishop that he had had sexual encounters with boys and felt guilty and considered killing himself. The priest died in 2000.

Bishop Adamec’s response to the grand jury report said that a psychiatric evaluation found that the priest, who was elderly and in ill health by 1992, was not a risk to children but that the bishop had him resign his ministry.

The grand jury found that the bishops didn’t typically remove accused priests from active ministry. Some priests were temporarily put on sick leave and then reassigned to new parishes. The grand jury concluded that the bishops kept matters quiet to shield themselves and the church from scandal.

In September, one priest testified before the grand jury that he might have accidentally fondled a 15-year-old boy’s genitals in 1979 when both were lying in a cot wearing T-shirts and underwear. The alleged victim had brought the matter to Bishop Adamec in 2002. At the time, the priest was sent for treatment for one month and then allowed to return to active ministry.

The priest, now 69, was suspended from his position last year at the insistence of the attorney general’s office, according to the grand jury report.

The report said Bishop Adamec created a chart listing levels of abuse and corresponding payouts to victims. The first level of abuse, “above clothing, genital fondling,” had a range of payment of $10,000 to $25,000. The fourth and highest level of abuse, “sodomy; intercourse,” had a range of payment of $50,000 to $175,000.

A footnote to the chart listed factors to consider within those ranges, such as number of occurrences, age of victim, use of alcohol or drugs and “other aggravating circumstances.”

The grand jury said diocese officials weren’t being generous to victims. “With these payouts came an onslaught of confidentiality agreements or waivers of liability releases,” the grand jury wrote. “They were buying silence and protection from public scrutiny.”

The investigation comes as Pope Francis has attempted to improve the church’s image and efforts to address the sexual abuse of children by clergy, which has been a global scandal.

The pope met with victims of abuse during his visit to Philadelphia last year, but his attempts to improve the church’s response have faced criticism and setbacks.

In 2014 Pope Francis established a commission made up of victims advocates, survivors and church officials to advise the Vatican. But last month an outspoken member of the commission and abuse survivor refused to leave the panel after other members demanded his departure.

Kris Maher at kris.maher@wsj.com


Wall Street Journal


Updated March 1, 2016

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