a katz /

March 8, 2016; The Guardian

Just months after the release of Spotlight, a movie detailing the investigative efforts of the Boston Globe to uncover the extent of the Catholic Church’s systematic sexual abuse of children in the Greater Boston area, the Pennsylvania Attorney General released a grand jury report last week illustrating in excruciating detail abuse and tactics in a Pennsylvanian Diocese that were much the same.

The report focuses on behavior of several members of the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown in Central Pennsylvania from 1940 to the 1990s. According to the report, the attorney general’s grand jury investigation was sparked in 2014 after several law enforcement officials and neighboring district attorneys approached the office with information about abuse within the Diocese.

As seen in the Boston Globe’s Pulitzer Prize–winning work on the Boston Archdiocese, as well as the investigations into the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown actively worked to conceal the abuse from the public, ensuring children continued to be abused and predators remained in positions to abuse children, both male and female.

The majority of the thorough report is spent identifying the priests and religious leaders and exactly how they victimized the children. For some victims, the abuse spanned several years. Moreover, much of the abuse was documented in letters from victims or documents kept by the Diocese.

According to the report, “The Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown was in possession of a massive amount of data detailing a dark and disturbing history. The history of child sexual abuse and the attempt to conceal that abuse from the public is detailed in this report.” This evidence helped verify allegations that, to a large extent, the Diocese had known for decades about the abuse taking place by its priests and yet ultimately failed to take proper action against the offenders.

Here are the main takeaways from the report:

  • At least 50 priests and religious leaders were identified as having committed child sexual abuse in the Diocese. When each individual was interviewed, he indicated it had been the first time he had ever been approached by a member of law enforcement for the abuse.
  • There is ample evidence to show the Diocese’s Bishops permitted the systematic abuse of children. Bishop James Hogan and Joseph Adamec are two of the bishops identified in the report as having enabled abuse to continue in the Diocese. While Hogan is now deceased, Adamec is still alive and retired in 2011. Some victims sent letters to the bishops asking for their abusers to be reprimanded or, at the very least, removed from their position. Instead of contacting authorities, the bishops filed away these letters from victims, evidence that most directly showcases their knowledge of the abuse.

The report says:

Rather than expose the conduct and embolden the silent victims of abuse the Diocese choose to remain silent itself. The Grand Jury found, as was the case in most sexual assault reports involving priests in the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown, Diocese officials did not report the matter the police. Instead the church engaged in secrecy and an assessment of civil liability.

  • Some priests admitted to the Bishops that they had abused a child or children, but were allowed to continue working in their posts. According to the report, “The Grand Jury concludes that [Father Martin] Cingle’s clearly incriminating statement to [Bishop] Adamec that he had accidentally fondled a partially undressed child, whom he was sleeping next to while partially undressed himself, warranted Cingle’s removal at that time. The Grand Jury is left to wonder why the account that both Adamec and Cingle recalled does not appear in diocesan records.”
  • Pornography and alcohol abuse were also noted in several victims’ recollections of their abuse or in letters to higher ranked clergy.
  • Religious leaders were often moved around or sent to “treatment centers.” As seen in other investigative reports of child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, religious leaders who had been discovered to be predators were either shifted around to other parishes or were sent to diocese-approved treatment centers, which “would often note that they had not diagnosed the offender as a ‘pedophile,’” preventing detection. Other times, when offenders were not sent directly to centers, the diocese relied on offenders to self-report.
  • Code words were given for predatory religious leaders to remain in the church. Predatory religious leaders would also be placed on special statuses such as “sick leave” or “nervous exhaustion,” which served as code for an offender being moved to another location until attention on the case had died