PITTSBURGH, Pennsylvania — A Catholic diocese has appointed a five-member board to oversee its handling of child-sex abuse allegations against clergy as part of an agreement with the federal prosecutor who oversees western Pennsylvania.
U.S. Attorney Soo Song announced the agreement in March with Altoona-Johnstown Bishop Mark Bartchak after allegations of a decades long abuse cover-up. Song’s predecessor had threatened to sue the diocese under a federal racketeering statute if reforms weren’t enacted.
A year ago, the previous Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane released a 147-page report based on secret diocesan records and other evidence that detailed abuse by more than 50 priests and clergy against hundreds of children.
The report criticized Bartchak’s predecessors, James Hogan, who headed the diocese from 1966 to 1986 and died in 2005, and Joseph Adamec, who succeeded Hogan and retired in 2005.
Adamec cited possible self-incrimination in refusing to testify before the grand jury Kane convened.
Adamec’s attorney argued in court filings that allegations of a cover-up by the now 81-year-old cleric are unfounded, noting Adamec suspended or removed nine priests from ministry, and that five others ordered to undergo psychological counseling never re-offended.
Kane’s investigation began when she was asked to review the diocese’s handling of abuse allegations at Bishop McCort Catholic High School against an athletic trainer, Franciscan Brother Stephen Baker, who worked there from 1992 to 2001. Baker killed himself in 2013 after abuse settlements with an Ohio diocese where he formerly worked were publicized.
Eighty-eight former McCort students settled claims against the diocese for $8 million in 2014.
A molestation suit against since-defrocked priest Francis Luddy that went to trial in 1994 also exposed many of the problems outlined in the grand jury report. The case led to a verdict of more than $2 million in damages and an appeals court finding that Hogan’s oversight of pedophile priests had been “outrageous.”
Kane’s report did not accuse Bartchak of wrongdoing, and he had suspended several priests named as alleged abusers in the report in the months leading up to its release. Still, the grand jury said it remains “concerned the purge of predators is taking too long.”
The new Independent Oversight Board for Youth Protection includes James W. Brown, former chief of staff to Democratic Sen. Bob Casey and his father, former Gov. Bob Casey; Walter “Pete” Carson, a former state police investigator; Eileen Dombo, a professor and assistant dean at The Catholic University of America; Mary Herwig, an abuse victim turned advocate; and J. Alan Johnson, a former federal prosecutor from Pittsburgh.
Exactly one month ago, Bartchak appointed an entirely new membership for the separate Diocesan Review Board. These boards are to be established in every diocese according to the norms of the U.S. bishops’ conference. The seven-member group assists in the assessment of allegations of sexual abuse of minors and a cleric’s suitability for ministry.
According to a statement from the diocese, Bartchak appointed two non-Catholic Christians to the Diocesan Review Board “in the interest of providing objectivity and transparency.”
Crux staff contributed to this report.