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Bartchak appoints members to diocese’s review board

Revamped board part of promised changes after state AG accused previous members of concealing abuse

Bishop Mark Bartchak named a new slate of members for the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown’s Dio­cesan Review Board, fulfilling a plan he first publicly detailed in March.

The new membership sweeps out past members of the board, which the state attorney general once described as a tool for concealing sexual abuse allegations. The revamped board is part of a series of changes Bartchak promised at a March press conference alongside federal prosecutors.

The Review Board’s seven new members are the Rev. Leo F. Arnone, Joyce Cunningham, Joseph Grappone, Todd Mahalko, Robert Skelly, Brent Stoltzfus and the Rev. Miles Zdinak. They are set to review sexual abuse allegations and determine clergymen’s suitability for the ministry.

Diocese Secretary for Communications Tony DeGol said he was unable to immediately provide further biographical information on the new members Monday. Searches online, however, suggest the new board includes a licensed social worker, a former state police trooper and a Carpatho-Russian Orthodox priest, among others.

“(Bartchak) feels that each of them brings a great deal of expertise in their respective fields,” DeGol said. “You have some who have backgrounds in law enforcement, in pastoral care, some in psychological treatment.”

Similar boards are required of every Roman Catholic diocese under the U.S. Conference on Catholic Bishops Charter for Protection of Children and Youth, officials said in a news release. Most members are required to be Catholic laypeople not employed by the church, while two of the members in the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown are from other Christian denominations.

The board, a confidential consultative group, serves for five years. Members’ terms can be renewed, officials said.

“Bishop Bartchak is grateful for their willingness to assist in this important work,” diocese representatives said in the news release Monday.

The Review Board is separate from a newly created body, the Oversight Board for Youth Protection. Also announced in March, the five-member Oversight Board is set to advise diocese officials on child abuse protection and enforcement.

While the Oversight Board’s full membership has not been made public, Bartchak said in March that it would include a public servant, a social worker, a retired law enforcement officer, a former U.S. attorney and a child abuse survivor. DeGol said Monday that more information on that board would be released soon.

“That is in the process of being set up,” he said.

The changes to the diocese come after a series of criminal and civil cases involving local clergymen and church employees — the most prominent being that of Brother Stephen Baker, a Franciscan friar who allegedly sexually abused students at Bishop McCort High School on Johnstown.

A grand jury report, released last year by the state attorney general, detailed decades of alleged abuse and cover-ups by diocese authorities, with help from officials outside the church.

Since then, Bartchak has announced a series of reforms to ensure abuse allegations are quickly turned over to law enforcement. Officials also announced plans to set up a 24-hour child abuse hotline and swiftly remove anyone accused of sexual crimes from contact with children.

The new policies and board changes were approved in conjunction with Acting U.S. Attorney for Western Pennsylvania Soo C. Song, who at the time called them “a clear, definitive break from the past.”

Mirror Staff Writer Ryan Brown is at 946-7457.

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