Five appointed to oversight board

Group to create policies to protect children in the local Catholic diocese

A former chief of staff to a U.S. senator, a former state police criminal investigator, a psychotherapist, a practitioner in spiritual formation and a U.S. attorney for western Pennsylvania have been tapped to create policies to protect children in the local Catholic diocese.

Acting U.S. Attorney Soo C. Song and Bishop Mark L. Bartchak of the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown have announced the five people appointed to an Independent Oversight Board for Youth Protection for the diocese.

The diocese created the independent oversight board earlier this year pursuant to a memorandum of understanding between the diocese and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Pennsylvania.

The board will work with a new diocesan director of youth protection, who will be announced in the near future, diocese spokesman Tony DeGol said. The reforms are aimed at preventing child sex abuse and responding swiftly to future allegations.

The independent oversight board is not to be confused with the diocese’s allegations review board.

On Aug. 22, Bartchak appointed seven new members to the separate allegations review board, which will review sexual abuse allegations and determine clergymen’s suitability for the ministry. Allegations review boards are required of every Roman Catholic diocese under the U.S. Conference on Catholic Bishops Charter for Protection of Children and Youth.

In contrast, the oversight board is prospective in nature, said board chairman Jim Brown, a former chief of staff to both U.S. Sen. Robert P. Casey Jr. and the late Gov. Robert P. Casey.

“We are not looking at accusations of previous episodes. Our job is to put policies and procedures in place going forward,” Brown said.

The board members are unpaid volunteers, Brown said. Brown lives in Philadelphia, and all but one of the members of the oversight board live outside of the diocese.

“We are doing this because it’s something that needs to be done. It sounds hokey, but I think I can speak for all members that’s why they are doing it,” he said.

“We are working with the diocese. They have expert consultants. There will be a youth protection director appointed by the diocese, and we would work with that person and focus on what you would expect: education, vetting of prospective employees and volunteers and making it relatively easy to report issues,” he said.

Brown has extensive experience with issues involving children and education, including service on the boards of three schools that educate underprivileged children.

Others on the board:

– Walter “Pete” Carlson is a former state police criminal investigator who helped prosecute child abuse cases for over 15 years. He also served as chief of detectives for the Lackawanna County District Attorney’s Office and has taught classes and lectured extensively on the subject of child abuse protection.

– Eileen Dombo is an associate professor and assistant dean of the National Catholic School of Social Service at The Catholic University of America. Dombo is also a practicing psychotherapist and has written and lectured extensively on trauma, child sexual abuse and mental health treatment. She is currently the chair of the Child Protection Advisory Board of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C.

– Mary Herwig is a practitioner in the field of formative spirituality and provides counseling. She is an advocate for child protection in all its forms, including for those who have suffered child abuse. She experienced abuse herself as a young child. Herwig promotes the Catholic Church’s call for a “New Evangelization” and educates others on the importance of ongoing spiritual formation. She is a longtime resident of Somerset.

– Jerry Johnson served as U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania for eight years. In that role he led the prosecution of thousands of criminal cases, including those involving child abuse. Johnson is a practicing attorney in Pittsburgh.

DeGol described the relationship between Bartchak and the U.S. Attorney’s Office as a collaboration and a partnership that produced the independent oversight board.

“The board members are remarkable for how well-qualified and diverse in experience they are. Among them is a survivor of sex abuse. Bishop Bartchak invited each of these members, but I don’t know where he found them. He’s been talking with many people since the grand jury report came out.”

DeGol said, “I don’t think we’ll ever say our work is done when it comes to protecting children. Everything since the grand jury report is moving us in this direction,”

A series of criminal and civil cases involving local clergymen and church employees was released last year in a grand jury report by the state attorney general.

Mirror Staff Writer Russ O’Reilly is at 946-7435.