Lift statute of limitations on priests’ abuse

For parishioners of the Altoona-Johnstown Catholic Diocese, still taken aback by the horrific contents of a grand jury report released Tuesday by Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane, the most immediate question should be about how healing can begin.

While the Father Francis Luddy child-sexual-abuse case decades ago began unraveling many Altoona-Johnstown Catholics’ thorough devotion to the belief that priests never would seriously deviate from serving the will of God, Tuesday’s disclosures dealt a blow to area Catholics’ faith in their clergy unlike any reservations they might have experienced since.

In recent years, controversial diocesan issues have erupted, such as unhappiness over church consolidations and closings.

Most recently in Blair County, Bishop Mark L. Bartchak has encountered unhappiness over his plan for revamping the Catholic elementary school system.

While none of those issues begin to compare in seriousness with the horrifying priest misconduct outlined in the grand jury report, small issues are part of a bigger picture, just like this unimaginable sexual-abuse scandal might cause major negative impacts.

Among them is whether the scandal will discourage some worthy, talented young men from pursuing priesthood vocations – at a time when the diocese is dealing with a severe priest shortage.

The foundation upon which the Altoona-Johnstown healing process must be built is action by the Pennsylvania Legislature to remove the statute of limitations covering the cases in the grand jury report as well as new allegations that might come forth against the priests in question.

Public pressure should demand expeditious work by lawmakers toward that positive end, and the public should expect an explanation from any lawmakers unwilling, in that way, to put the safety of children first.

Although Kane praised Bartchak for removing some priests named in the report, parishioners are due an explanation from the bishop as to why he allegedly failed to notify the Bishop McCort High School board of directors about abuse allegations lodged against Brother Stephen Baker, an athletic trainer at the school. Bartchak allegedly told the school’s principal, Ken Salem, not to inform the board, and that he would.

That failure-to-notify was contained in a WJAC-TV News report, the same day as Kane’s grand jury-report release.

The diocese’s healing process must include disclosure of the total amount paid out to sexual-abuse victims – including how many victims – by way of a secret abuse-payment guide sickeningly developed by former Bishop Joseph Adamec to ensure silence. Beyond that, from where – what funds – did that money come and how were those outlays noted in diocese budgets?

There even needs to be disclosure of whether any funds from a retired-clergy collection in diocesan churches each year are being paid to support disgraced priests.

Meanwhile, parishioners must be relieved to know that Adamec, according to Bartchak, will no longer continue serving Mass as a result of his role in the cover-up.

Also, parishioners familiar with the interior of the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament might feel that the large banners marking the tenure of Adamec and his predecessor, Bishop James Hogan, should not be allowed to hang among the banners honoring other Altoona-Johnstown bishops.

Hogan also engaged in the sexual-abuse cover-up, the report says.

Such a suggestion isn’t unreasonable.

Altoona-Johnstown parishioners remain taken-aback by the disgusting priest conduct that the report details, but if healing is to begin, it must start with the statute-of-limitations repeal.

Nothing less is acceptable.