Hollidaysburg woman protests on anniversary of Kane report

Merritts seeks to draw attention to abuse victims

Mirror photo by Phil Ray Rosalind Merritts of Hollidaysburg stands on the front lawn of the Altoona-Johnstown Roman Catholic Diocese. Thursday was the second anniversary of a grand jury report released by former Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane that uncovered hundreds of cases of child sexual abuse by area priests and religious leaders over a 50-year period.

Rosalind Merritts, a retired nurse from Hollidaysburg, stood Thursday on the front lawn of the Altoona-Johnstown Roman Catholic Diocese, displaying photos of children allegedly abused by priests and hoping to catch the attention of motorists along busy Logan Boulevard.

Despite a driving rain and a bleak sky, motorists were able to spot Merritts, clad in a long, bright yellow rain coat and carrying a large sign bearing the inscription, “PROTEST.”

Many drivers beeped their horns in support.

Merritts is part of the National Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, and for her, Thursday was a special day.

It was the second anniversary of a grand jury report released by former Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane that uncovered hundreds of cases of child sexual abuse by area priests and religious leaders over a 50-year period.

The 2016 report led to changes.

Altoona-Johnstown Diocesan Bishop Mark Bartchak worked with the former Acting U.S. Attorney Soo C. Song of the Western District of Pennsylvania to develop programs to ensure local children are protected from further abuse by employees of the diocese.

Last August, the bishop named seven members to the Diocesan Review Board, which examines reports of abuse to determine their credibility.

That board also is to determine clergymen’s suitability for the ministry.

In January, the diocese created an Office of Children and Youth Protection, another step in protecting the children.

Yet cases of past alleged abuse continue to linger.

Two officials of the Franciscan Friars Third Order Regular face trial in Blair County Court for failing to protect children from the late Brother Stephen Baker, who was accused of sexually abusing teens at a Johnstown Catholic high school.

In December, now retired Judge Jolene G. Kopriva dismissed charges against a former priest at St. Leo’s Catholic Church in Altoona, the Rev. Charles Bodziak, accused of molesting two young girls years ago. The case was dismissed because the statute of limitations had expired.

In her protest Thursday, Merritts turned her attention toward Pope Francis, who, in Chile last month, accused a sexual abuse victim of slander and who presided over the funeral of Cardinal Bernard Law, accused of covering up child sexual abuse when serving as the archbishop of Boston.

She is fighting to extend the statute of limitations so those who were abused years ago may receive justice.

She also questions the sincerity of the top officials of the Catholic hierarchy.

Merritts spends a day each month on the bishop’s lawn along Logan Boulevard, she said, so these victims won’t be forgotten.

“I don’t want this (memory of the victims) to go away,” she said.

Recently, the sexual harassment of women has come to the forefront because of the “#MeToo” movement.

“Hopefully,” she said in a letter to the Mirror, “#TimesUp in this country for accepting that the abuser at church, at home, in school or on the teams is to be protected.”

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