Two Roman Catholic bishops who led a Pennsylvania diocese helped cover up the sexual abuse of hundreds of children by more than 50 priests or religious leaders over a 40-year period, according to a grand jury report issued on Tuesday.
The 147-page report on the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese was based partly on evidence from a secret diocesan archive uncovered through a search warrant executed last year, said Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane.
The report is especially critical of Bishops James Hogan and Joseph Adamec.
Hogan, (right) who led the diocese from 1966 to 1986, died in 2005. Adamec, (left) who succeeded him, retired in 2011.
Adamec or his staff threatened some alleged abuse victims with excommunication, and generally worked harder to hide or settle allegations of abuse than to sanction the priests accused of committing them, the report contends.
ALTOONA, Pennsylvania — Victims interviewed during the investigation into allegations of child sex abuse in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown told investigators their abuse - which in some cases happened decades ago - continues to affect their lives today.
"They said they lost their faith," said Daniel J. Dye, state Deputy Attorney General. "That is a profound thing to think about. A lot were from very devout Catholic homes and having a priest take interest in them was a status symbol."
In some cases, Dye said, parents encouraged their children to spend time with the predator priest, not knowing that the priest was molesting their child.
"They found themselves offended on not only by the person they trusted most but the physical representative of God on Earth," Dye said. "The way they described it to us is the violation was total. They were violated in spirit, mind and body."
On Tuesday Attorney General Kathleen Kane announced the findings of a two-year investigation into allegations of child sexual abuse at the hands of priests and church leaders in the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown. The 147-page report laid out in graphic accounts details of horrific abuse of hundreds of children in the diocese at the hands of more than 50 years spanning a four-decade timeframe.
Bishop Adamec even created a 'payout chart' to help guide how much victims would receive from the Church, the report said.
Dye said many of the victims today say they struggle with organized religion, specifically anything to do with the Catholic Church.
"Many struggle with psychological issues and drug and alcohol dependency issues," he said. "Again and again, we heard about them struggling to maintain relationships, struggling to hold down jobs and struggling just to have the normal life that many people take for granted because they haven't gone through the horrors these children went through at the hands of priests."
Dye said many victims expressed finding some comfort in the fact that their abuse was now coming to light and being reported by the media.
"That was a recurring theme," he said. "Many said I may live behind a wall of silence but finally the world will hear from me ... Will it ever fix what happened to them? No, but it will give them some peace of mind in knowing that the people who did these things to them are now being exposed for whom they were."
While state law enforcement officials consider the findings of the report to be criminal, no charges can be leveled on individuals at this time, primarily because the statute of limitations for many of the cases has expired. In some limited cases, the unnamed victim or victims are too deeply traumatized to testify in court, the report indicates. Many of the accused are dead.
Still, Dye said, that is not a dead-end.
'Everything could change with one phone call," he said. "These cases are so dependent on specific facts. We have to look at specific cases individually. The right phone call with the right fact could result in charges."
Even though authorities can bring down no charges at this time, Dye said the announcement of the report was still a victory.
"It allows us to begin that accountability process, that notification process so citizens, moms and dad around Pennsylvania, in particular in this diocese, can use this information to make informed decisions regarding what is best for their families."
Dye said that all the priest named in the report - more than 50 - are either dead or have been removed from ministry, although many continue to work as priests in some capacity within the church.
Pope Francis in 2014 created the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors to advise him in the fight against child sexual abuse has reiterated that Catholic bishops have "a moral and ethical responsibility" to report suspected abuse to civil authorities.
Dye said he would go as far as to say he was confident that the Altoona Diocese was free of predator priests.
"The diocese's response to this report will help tell the tale," he said. "If we hear of a diocese that is seeking aggressively to bring these matters to law enforcement and not hide from its dark history but rather acknowledge it, then we are on the right track."
A hotline has been established for victims. Anyone wanting to report instances of clergy child sex abuse in the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese should call 888-538-8541.