I had hoped in yesterday’s post to summarize the sequence of legal and ecclesiastical events which led to the August 15 release of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s Grand Jury Report of six dioceses throughout the state. But as I explained to one of our readers last night at Mass, “I never got out of Philadelphia,” and I feel I have some loose ends to tie up before delving into the report itself.
There are two dioceses not included in Wednesday’s report: Philadelphia, which was the subject of two previous grand jury investigations in 2005 and 2011, and Altoona-Johnstown, where conditions were so out of hand that the diocese was investigated separately in 2016. Investigators and prosecutors over the fifteen years since the “Spotlight” events in Boston were gaining both knowledge of Catholic governance and parish life as well as greater independence to address administrative malfeasance. Catholicism has been a major force in Pennsylvania politics; in the Altoona-Johnstown report (2016) the grand jury examined actual collusion between the sitting bishops and civil law enforcement agencies.
The 2005 Philadelphia Grand Jury identified numerous clerical abusers and cited the administrative actions of three bishops—John Krol, Anthony Bevilacqua, and Justin Rigali, all cardinals. In the view of the Grand Jury the cardinals “excused and enabled the abuse” in a number of ways, primarily by frequent relocation throughout the diocese. The website “Bishops’ Accountability” lays out the crimes and adjudications of every priest credibly accused in the Philadelphia Archdiocese through 2005, including a trove of links to substantiating news accounts, evidential correspondence and sentencing. The 2011 Grand Jury report seems motivated, in my opinion, by Cardinal Rigali’s failure to implement the recommendations of the 2005 report. The Cardinal retired and died shortly after, and his Director of Clergy Personnel, Monsignor William Lynn, was sentenced to 3-6 years for recommending the continuing practice of relocation of abusive clergy from parish to parish.
The Altoona-Johnstown Diocese may contain the highest per capita numbers of clerical abusers and victims in the country. The diocese reports currently that 71 diocesan priests serve 89 parishes. The Grand Jury report of 2016 indicates that fifty priests and religious leaders abused hundreds of children over the years. Although the current bishop is removing abusive priests through ecclesiastical channels, the ratio of perpetrators to devoted priests is quite remarkable. One might wonder how the circumstances here created such a concentration.
The Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown contains only two modest sized metropolitan areas: Altoona’s population is 46,320 and Johnstown’s at 19,712. Johnstown, incidentally, is the site of the disastrous flood in 1889 that killed approximately 2200 people. I mention this for several reasons: (1) to highlight the significance of the number of victims, which the report puts at several hundred, and (2) to describe the geographic setting of rural Pennsylvania. The political consultant James Carville once observed that for planning purposes he viewed Pennsylvania as “Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, with Alabama in between.”
There is some truth to this in the sense that the sixty miles between Altoona and Pittsburgh might as well be a thousand miles. The power of the Church—specifically Bishop Hogan (r. 1966—1986) –was all encompassing; political parties in the diocese would not run a candidate without the Bishop’s approval. Within the diocese he was known to threaten victims of child abuse and others with excommunication.
Bishop Joseph Adamec (r. 1987-2011) enjoyed the same absolute power until the general knowledge of the dimensions of the national abuse crisis became common knowledge with the Globe reporting in 2002. One might say that the need for the chancery to cover up abuse cases in this diocese became more acute as civil authorities realized their own complicity in diocesan malfeasance. The introduction to the Altoona-Johnstown Grand Jury report elaborates the unholy marriage of church leaders and civil authorities, which officially ended when investigators received search warrants to examine the diocese’s “black box” and with it about 140,000 documents related exclusively to matters of child abuse.
Complicating matters further is a second and separate grand jury report charging three Franciscan superiors with mismanagement and neglect in the assignment of a known abusing friar. This report was issued just two weeks after the full Altoona-Johnstown report; the friars’ headquarters is in that diocese. One of the accused was pastor of the church in the next town over from me and a casual friend of mine. He was removed from his parish immediately when the grand jury report came public. My diocese asked me to spend the weekend in the parish to address peoples’ concerns over this sudden turn of events. I spoke to dozens of parishioners reassuring them that no, their pastor was not abusing children but that he was charged with administrative malfeasance from fifteen years ago. They asked if he would be returning soon. I said that this would depend upon the courts; privately I did not that would ever happen. It is my understanding that my friend was sentenced to probation for five years.
I am going to take a break tomorrow [Monday] and continue this thread hopefully on Tuesday. The plan remains in effect to look at this issue of abuse from multiple angles, including some words of encouragement for you. Feel free to use the links provided so far. The full Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report is here. I have ordered the John Jay Study (2011) to use in future posts to give you some clinical and social data on how this moral dilemma evolved in the United States. You can access this study here.
I am getting a lot of mail—thanks, and I will respond to each of you as soon as I can.
On My Mind