Local diocese can only hope healing begins

Catholics and non-Catholics living in the eight counties of the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese might by now be wondering when the last of the bad news related to the horrific priest child-sex-abuse scandal will be forthcoming.

That’s not because they’re tired of so many articles about the scandal staring at them when they pick up their newspaper, or tired of so much airtime being allocated to the scandal on television newscasts.

Instead, they’re looking forward to a day when hopefully all of the crimes and violations of religion-based trust here will have been exposed, and there won’t be further “chapters” compounding what already has been revealed.

Understandably, some Catholics have begun to question their faith and what for many had been an unwavering confidence in their clergy and other religious leaders.

For them and others, a healing process lies ahead.

In the days after last year’s Easter Vigil service at the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament in Altoona, during which a parishioner discharged a handgun accidentally, many Catholics and non-Catholics alike were asking themselves “What next?”

Yet no one could have anticipated that, less than a year later, the cathedral, as well as many other churches of the diocese, would be identified as having been shepherded by clergy who gained personal sexual satisfaction from victimizing children.

Prior to the sordid facts disclosed this month based on a state grand jury investigation, there had been several individual priest-child-sex-abuse cases exposed here over the years. But the extent of the problem uncovered by the grand jury was beyond anyone’s imagination.

However, “anyone” doesn’t apply to past Altoona-Johnstown bishops, other Catholic leaders, plus those in the lay community – including members of law enforcement and the courts – who knew, but covered up by way of their inaction, what was happening over the course of more than four decades.

It is a basis for optimism that filing of criminal charges has begun for alleged crimes still within the commonwealth’s statute of limitations. Within that optimism must rest the hope that a time will come when there’s nothing more hidden about all that occurred, although such an outcome seems unlikely.

It’s important that current Altoona-Johnstown Bishop Mark Bartchak does all that he can in terms of transparency. He must make good on his promise of transparency, no matter how painful and time-consuming that process might be.

For Catholics, the weeks of Lent are supposed to be the most solemn, holiest time of the church year.

Unfortunately, the disclosures over the past nearly three weeks have distracted many parishioners from the kind of focused Lenten journey that they traveled in years past.

For many, the news that Mother Teresa of Calcutta will be declared a saint on Sept. 4 is an uplifting reflection of the good that still exists within their faith, in contrast to the “monster” priests who have brought shame and anguish to this diocese.

Hopefully, a seed for healing has been planted.

Still, the fact that there have been more than 215 calls about alleged abuse made to a state-established hotline since release of the grand jury’s findings indicates that the scope of unfinished work remains huge.

What lies ahead will necessitate considerable patience. Hopefully, parishioners of the Altoona-Johnstown are up to that challenge.