Page last updated: January 4, 2017
Pennsylvania has seen its fair share of child molestation scandals. The Philadelphia Archdiocese came under fire over 10 years ago, for allowing pedophile priests to stay in the ministry and claim additional victims. Multiple Grand Jury reports detailed an endemic failure on the part of the Philadelphia Archdiocese. Now, the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown faces strikingly similar allegations, decades of covering up child molestation by priests and religious figures.
The Diocese of Altoona-Johnnstown encompasses 8 counties in central Pennsylvania: Bedford, Blair, Cambria, Centre, Clinton, Fulton, Huntingdon and Somerset. It serves a population of nearly 100,000 Catholics and is comprised of 89 parishes.
On March 1, 2016, the Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General (OAG) issued a 145 page report detailing serious allegations of a widespread cover up by church officials:
“Over many years hundreds of children have fallen victim to child predators wrapped in the authority and integrity of an honorable faith. As wolves disguised as the shepherds themselves – these men stole the innocence of children by sexually preying upon the most innocent and vulnerable members of our society and of the Catholic faith. If these discoveries were not dreadful enough, this Grand Jury further found that the actions of Bishops James Hogan and Joseph Adamec failed to protect children entrusted to their care and guidance. Worse yet, these men took actions that further endangered children as they placed their desire to avoid public scandal over the wellbeing of innocent children. Priests were returned to ministry with full knowledge they were child predators.”
In 2014, the OAG began investigating widespread reports of a massive cover up by the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown, the local police department and the Bishop McCort Catholic High School. The matter was referred by the District Attorney of Cambria County.
In August 2015, the OAG executed a search warrant at the Diocese and uncovered a secret archive of literally thousands of documents detailing sex abuse of children by priests over the course of decades. The documents uncovered included statements by sex abuse victims, letters from sex abuse victims, correspondence with offending priests and internal documents. A special Grand Jury was convened to investigate.
The Grand Jury documented child sex abuse by at least 50 priests or religious leaders (i.e., a teacher, choir master, coach, etc.) of the Diocese. It also found that hundreds of children were victimized. Reports indicated that children were subjected to varying acts of sex abuse, from fondling to anal rape. In many instances, alcohol and pornography were provided to children by priests.
The Grand Jury report also indicated that Bishop James Hogan (deceased 2005) and Bishop Joseph Adamec (retired 2011) failed to take any action whatsoever and instead “chose to shield the institution and themselves.” According to the Report, Adamec created a pay chart, valuing the damages payable to victims of priest abuse. Fondling above clothing had a payment range between $10,000 and $25,000; the payment range for sodomy/intercourse was between $50,000 and $175,000.
Testimony of several priests revealed a pattern or practice, shielding pedophile priests from criminal investigations. Current Bishop Mark Bartchak was called to testify in front of the Grand Jury on November 18, 2015. Monsignor Michael Servinsky was called to testify in December 2015. Servinsky was previously involved in multiple investigations of priest abuse under previous bishops. Servinsky exercised his 5th Amendment Right and did not answer any questions.
According to the Grand Jury Report, the following priests are alleged to have engaged in sexual abuse of children (the list is not exhaustive):
- Father David Arsenault (Pastor, Most Holy Trinity Church in Huntingdon, PA)
- Father Stephen Baker (committed suicide 2013)
- Father Charles Bodziak (Pastor, St. Michael’s Church in St. Michael, PA)
- Father James Bunn (retired)
- Father John Boyle (deceased 2011)
- Father Martin Cingle (Suspended from St. Francis of Assisi 2015)
- Father Dennis Coleman (deceased 2014)
- Father James Coveney (status unknown)
- Father Joseph Gaborek (defrocked 2004)
- Father Bernard Grattan (defrocked 2004)
- Father Robert Kelly (suspended from St. Peter & Paul Church 2015)
- Father George Koharchik (resigned 2012)
- Monsignor Anthony Little (suspended 2015)
- Father Francis Luddy (dismissed from the priesthood)
- Monsignor Thomas Mabon (deceased 2015)
- Father Joseph Maurizio (convicted of child sex abuse crimes 2015)
Call for Witnesses and Victims to Step Forward
Laffey, Bucci & Kent is investigating civil remedies for victims of priest sex abuse in the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown. Firm founder Brian Kent is a former sex crimes unit prosecutor who now represents victims in the civil courts. If you have information about any case of priest sex abuse or abuse by a religious figure from the Diocese of Johnstown-Altoona, please contact our office immediately. (866) 641-0806
Statute of Limitations Laws – Is it Too Late to File?
Pennsylvania’s statute of limitations laws are a major hurdle in any child molestation case, especially priest abuse cases. Therefore, it is crucial to speak to a lawyer immediately.
Under current law, August 27, 2002 acts like a cut-off date because that’s the date a major change in child molestation law became effective. If you are a minor and were abused BEFORE that date, the statute of limitations expires on your 23rd birthday (5 years after you turned 18). If you are a minor and were abused AFTER that date, the statute of limitations expires on your 30th birthday (12 years after you turn 18). Get more information about the statute of limitations in child molestation cases in Pennsylvania.
Pennsylvania’s legislature has considered amending civil and criminal statute of limitations laws in child molestation cases. A case that was previously time-barred may be viable, pending changes to the law. Even if your case is time-barred, it is still advisable to speak to a sex abuse lawyer.
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