Catholics remain concerned

A year ago today — March 1, 2016 — Catholics of the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese experienced a tidal wave of shock, sadness, anger and feelings of betrayal in response to a state grand jury report alleging that hundreds of children had been sexually abused by about 50 priests over more than 40 years in the local diocese.

The grand jury report, delivered in Altoona by then-Attorney General Kathleen Kane, also exposed the horrific finding that two former diocesan leaders — Bishops James Hogan and Joseph Adamec — had covered up priests’ wrongdoing or warded off inquiries about that wrongdoing.

While, 12 months later, the blockbuster revelations no longer are a topic of daily conversation and news reports, what the grand jury uncovered remains planted firmly in Catholics’ feelings and emotions, and many of those Catholics remain troubled about what might come next.

During her presentation, Kane described the report as providing a “day of reckoning” for those whose wrongdoing the report detailed. Looking ahead, the biggest question mark centers on whether similar days of reckoning might be forthcoming for the Dioceses of Allentown, Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh and Scranton.

It was announced in September that those dioceses were under investigation to determine whether they, too, were settings for irresponsible, dirty, criminal behavior by clergy similar to what already had been exposed in Altoona-Johnstown, and in the Philadelphia Archdiocese 13 years earlier.

There has been no indication yet regarding when a report on the current six-diocese probe might be available.

What continues to attract the attention here — of Catholics and non-Catholics alike — is the upcoming court case involving three retired Third Order Regular Franciscan friars accused of endangering the welfare of children by placing another friar — Stephen Baker — in positions where he allegedly was able to molest more than 100 students during the nearly eight years he was assigned to Bishop McCort High School in Johnstown.

The period of time in question was between April 1992 and January 2010.

As reported by the Mirror on Feb. 1, attorneys have until April 15 to file pretrial motions. Oral arguments are scheduled for April 27 at the Blair County Courthouse.

People who chose to read all or parts of the Altoona-Johnstown grand jury report were no doubt overwhelmed by its contents and detail. The words “predator,” “raped” and “molested” were repeated often on the document’s pages, in describing the problem priests’ contacts with children, and one priest even is referred to as “a monster.”

These were priests who heard the confessions of people whose offenses paled in comparison with their own. These were priests who proclaimed the good news of Jesus’ birth on Earth in Christmas homilies, while eagerly awaiting their next sexual contacts with their child victims.

These were priests who spoke the right messages about Lent, Easter and the other observances during the church year but who lived lives terribly contrary to those messages.

In its report, the grand jury called its discoveries “dreadful,” but even that word is an understatement for the information that the report contains. Outside of the report, some Catholics have reassessed their religious feelings and their giving to their church and diocesan collections.

A year has passed, but the tidal wave’s impact lingers.