A Catholic diocese in Pennsylvania announced Thursday that it will post the names online of priests credibly accused of sexually abusing children, a decision that came two days after a dramatic grand jury report alleged a decades-long cover-up.
Advocates hope that the grand jury report, which was announced just two days after the movie “Spotlight” focused national attention on child sexual abuse by winning the Oscar for Best Picture, will lead to new legislation permitting more prosecutions of abusive priests and those who supervised them.
The report relied on a secret archive at the Altoona-Johnstown diocese, which dates back to the 1950s and was opened up this summer when authorities obtained a search warrant. The grand jury interviewed surviving priests and their alleged victims, and compiled a 147-page account detailing accusations against more than 50 religious leaders including priests and teachers.
“These findings are both staggering and sobering. Over many years hundreds of children have fallen victim to child predators wrapped in the authority and integrity of an honorable faith,” the grand jury wrote.
As dramatic as the report’s allegations are, however, it does not recommend criminal charges, mainly because the statute of limitations has expired. The same is true for potential civil cases.
The chilling misdeeds alleged in the report and in “Spotlight,” alongside the lack of charges, highlights the ongoing battle over statutes of limitations, which bar cases from going forward after a set time. Survivors and their advocates say the laws are deeply unfair to victims of sex crimes, who often need decades to voice their experience.
In this report, the grand jury agreed. “The victims of child sexual abuse never escape their victimization; it is inequitable and unjust to allow their victimizers to escape accountability.”
Marci Hamilton, a constitutional law scholar at Yeshiva University and prominent attorney for child sex abuse survivors, said advocates are hopeful that lawmakers will see this past week as more reason to ease the statutes.
State laws vary widely, but in Pennsylvania they ban criminal charges after the victim turns 50, and civil litigation after they turn 30. The grand jury proposed eliminating time limitations for criminal cases altogether.
“Between ‘Spotlight’ and this report, this is the best chance we’ve had in a long time,” Hamilton said Thursday. “There is some momentum for statute reform which has been pending for 10 years. There is an active and insistent movement blocked by the Catholic Church.”
The Pennsylvania Catholic Conference said in a statement that it supports Pennsylvania’s current statue of limitations laws.
The diocese of Altoona-Johnstown, which includes about 90,000 Catholics, on Thursday announced its plans for responding to the report.
Bishop Mark L. Bartchak said in a statement, “Someone recently shared the expression, ‘When you know more, you can do more.’ With the grand jury report, we know more, and we will do more.”
He said that in the interest of transparency, he will publish a list on the diocese’s website of every priest accused of abuse, and will update the list with the current status of the priest. The diocese will also thoroughly review its policies on protecting children, he said.
“I have met with victim-survivors. Their words and their pain have deeply affected me,” Bartchak said.
The grand jury report described the actions of two previous bishops – one of whom has died, and one of whom is retired – as criminal. Both bishops moved known abusers to new assignments where they could harm children again, and pressured law enforcement not to prosecute clergy, the report said.
“Because of their choices and failed leadership hundreds of children suffered,” the grand jury wrote of Bishops James Hogan and Joseph Adamec. “The Bishops returned these monsters to ministry.”
The grand jury offered measured approval of the way Bartchak has handled abuse allegations in his five years as bishop. It focused especially on one priest, who has served since 1973.
In 2002, a man told Bartchak’s predecessor, Adamec, that he had been abused by that priest in 1979 when he was 15 years old. The grand jury said Adamec asked the priest about the incident; the priest told him that he remembered traveling with the teen’s family at the time, but did not remember fondling the boy. The priest went to a Catholic treatment center, then went back to full-time ministry.
When the grand jury interviewed that priest in 2015, he at first said he did not remember touching the teen. When a prosecutor reminded him that he could be charged with perjury, he gave a convoluted answer: If he might have touched the boy’s genitals accidentally while the boy was sleeping, then, “yes, I did,” he said, according to the grand jury report.
The prosecutor sent a letter that day asking Bartchak to remove that priest from ministry, and Bartchak suspended him pending the completion of the investigation.
Of 35 priests documented in the investigation, 21 have died and four have retired. Eight have been suspended or dismissed from the priesthood, including one who was convicted of having sex with orphans on mission trips to Honduras and is now incarcerated. Two are currently serving as priests.
One of those two, the Rev. Charles Bodziak, told The Post on Friday that he was surprised that an old allegation against him resurfaced when the grand jury convened. Bodziak was accused in 2003 of having sex with a teenager in foster care when she was 16 years old, in 1971.
Bodziak says he told a church review board in 2003 that he remembered the teen spending time with a family he knew, but he barely knew her himself. “I didn’t really know her. They had an investigation and I was cleared of it,” Bodziak said. He serves presently at St. Michael’s Church in St. Michael, Pa.
The Post is not naming some of the living priests accused in the grand jury report who could not be reached for comment.
John Salveson, a survivor of clergy sex abuse who now runs a nonprofit advocating for abuse survivors, said he’s been communicating “non-stop” with other advocates since the report came out Tuesday. While the report is the third alleging dramatic abuse and cover-up by Pennsylvania priests and bishops, Salveson said he hoped some new details would jar lawmakers.
One of the most startling pieces of evidence, among more than 115,000 documents seized from the secret archive, was a “payout chart” Adamec created to determine how much to pay victims who reported abuse.
The chart recommended paying $10,000 to $25,000 to victims fondled over their clothes; $15,000 to $40,000 to those fondled under their clothes or subjected to masturbation; $25,000 to $75,000 for those subjected to oral sex; and $50,000 to $175,000 to those subjected to intercourse.
“If you’ve seen the movie ‘Spotlight,’ and then you look at this report, you say: “How could it be that you’d oppose addressing this issue anymore? How cowardly and fearful are these legislators and what the hell is wrong with them?” Salveson said.
Salveson focuses on abuse at various institutions but says the Catholic Church is the strongest lobbying force against expanding statutes of limitations so victims have more time to come forward, or against opening temporary windows when any victims can come forward.
The full report includes a graphic chronicle of the accusations against every allegedly abusive priest known to have worked in the diocese. It recounts several victims who contemplated or attempted suicide, and at least one who killed himself.
The earliest instance of abuse included in the report was in 1950. That victim reported the crime in 1999, when he was in his 70s. He was haunted by the belief that others had suffered at the hands of the same priest: He said that when the Rev. Mario Fabbri raped him repeatedly on a trip, Fabbri told him, “You are not as cooperative as the others.”
One of the priests, the Rev. Dennis Coleman, was reassigned to a different parish when he was accused of rubbing his genitals on a boy’s feet. At the new parish, he allegedly did the same thing. Assigned to a third parish, he was accused of repeating the behavior again with three more boys.
Adamec moved one priest to Altoona Hospital to become a chaplain there once the bishop learned of allegations against the priest. There, the report said, the priest allegedly sexually assaulted a physically disabled patient.
One of the priests, the Rev. George Koharchik who resigned in 2012, told the grand jury that he showered with children, slept with them and groped them in his car. He told jurors, “I didn’t think of it, certainly, as predatory. I don’t know that I would speak of it as acts of love.” Koharchik declined to comment on Thursday night.
The report tells of one alleged victim who said he was first abused as a 15-year-old by Father Daniel O’Friel. Extremely distressed as a college student, he reported turning to the Rev. Robert Kelly, unaware that Kelly had previously been accused of abusing multiple children. That night, Kelly allegedly propositioned him. (Kelly also declined to comment on Thursday night.)
And when the victim sought counseling from the Church yet again, he turned to a third priest — who is now on the list of alleged molesters.
Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly said that the diocese of Altoona-Johnstown is overseen by the diocese of Harrisburg. The two are separate.