This week, a Pennsylvania grand jury released its findings from a two-week investigation on the cover-up of sexual crimes committed by Catholic priests of the Altoona-Johnstown diocese. From the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s report:
“These findings are both staggering and sobering,” said the grand jury report. “Over many years hundreds of children have fallen victim to child predators wrapped in the authority and integrity of an honorable faith. As wolves disguised as the shepherds themselves — these men stole the innocence of children by sexually preying upon the most innocent and vulnerable …. ”
Much of the abuse happened between the 1940s and 1980s, according to the report, but many of the victims came forward in more recent decades to report the priest to the diocese.
The two previous bishops leading the diocese — James Hogan, who served from 1966 to 1986 and died in 2005, and Joseph Adamec, who served from 1987 to 2011 and is now retired — “took actions that further endangered children as they placed their desire to avoid public scandal over the well-being of innocent children,” the report said. “Priests were returned to ministry with full knowledge they were child predators.”
The grand jury found evidence of sexual abuse by 50 priests, spanning the decades, of the small diocese of 120,000. More:
The report includes extensive testimony from a key aide to Bishop Hogan, Monsignor Philip Saylor, who said a Blair County president judge, sheriff and other law enforcement officers let the diocese handle abusive priests internally, rather than prosecuting them.
The grand jury said there was an apparent reason for this deference — that the diocese had political boss-like powers in central Pennsylvania. Monsignor Saylor said a mayor of Johnstown sent candidates for police and fire chief to him for interviews, and he would tell the mayor whom to pick. “That happened in Johnstown and Altoona,” he said.
The grand jury report quoted former Altoona police Chief Peter Starr as crediting his own appointment to such arrangements and saying that the “politicians of Blair County were afraid of Monsignor Saylor,” who was editor of the diocesan newspaper.
With such influence, “Hogan saw no obligation of faith or law to the children of his parishioners,” the grand jury report said.
Can you believe that? The mayor and the police were afraid of the bishop. There’s a line in Spotlight where a character says, of the conspiracy of silence and indifference among Boston Catholics, “It takes a village to abuse a child.”
The story goes on to say that the grand jury found that the review board set up by the diocese after 2002 were more interested in investigating alleged abuse victims to prove that they were frauds than in finding out what really happened.
Inside the story you can read an embedded version of the grand jury report. No amount of familiarity with these kinds of things can reduce the shock. The grand jury had a search warrant executed on the small Pennsylvania diocese’s headquarters, seizing its records related to the sexual abuse of children by priests. The report notes that they didn’t find a few files, but rather filing cabinets and boxes “full of details of children being sexually violated by the institution’s own members.”
I spent some of this morning reading those details. It’s demonic. There’s no other word for it. Unless you are certain you can’t handle it, I strongly suggest you read at least some of the report. It’s crucial that you understand what exactly these priests did to children, and what these bishops facilitated. Words like “abused” and “molested” do not begin to convey the gravity of these acts. A priest of the cathedral, for example, raped a teenage boy inside a hearse. That’s not even one of the worst ones. The bishop knew about this, but did nothing — in fact, the grand jury found that he tried to obstruct the police investigation by denying cops access to the cathedral.
The cover-ups involved more than the diocese. State and local authorities facilitated them too. In the early 1980s, then-Bishop Hogan worked out an arrangement with the Pennsylvania State Police to avoid consequences for one serial molester priest. When the priest re-offended, for punishment, the bishop sent the abuser for a six-week “retreat” to Orchard Lake — a boy’s school.
Perverts, the lot.
To this day, I still cannot understand why so many men — fathers, brothers, uncles, cops — in these communities didn’t stand up to these priests and beat the hell out of them for what they did, and were doing, to the community’s children. Reading the report this morning, I was reminded of this passage from Christopher Caldwell’s report on the Muslim immigration crisis in Europe:
Even in France, building a winning coalition out of feminism and national security will be hard to pull off. The New Year’s Eve sexual attacks by migrant men on German women in the main square of Cologne have shaken France to its core. The episode grows more significant and unsettling as the weeks pass and new details emerge. The number of discrete attacks appears to have been closer to a thousand than to a hundred. The post-Cologne revelation that a similar mob sex attack had taken place at a concert in Sweden in the summer of 2014 raised the specter of ideological taboos resembling those in a totalitarian state. It is not just that the government has worked hard to silence inconvenient facts, as Germany’s did in the aftermath of Cologne. It is that the European public has been disciplined into suppressing its own thoughts.
The reflection has lately taken a darker, more anthropological turn. Elisabeth Lévy, editor of the controversy-sowing monthly Causeur, was the first French writer to ask a troubling question: Where were German men in all of this? The Russian writer Maria Golovanivskaya, too, wondered why she had seen no “battered male faces” among the victims. The Polish writer Adam Soboczynski even put in a good word for pre-feminist ways. “The patriarchal society,” he wrote, “which remains alive and well in other parts of the world, was never one in which a woman could be humiliated for sport.” He noted, with a certain Polish mischief, that the young men he saw in the German subways hardly seemed up to the task of being protectors. “They were very sweet and very slender,” he wrote, “and it would have made a very very politically incorrect parlor game to guess which of them were gay and which of them were only acting like it.” Elisabeth Badinter, the French feminist doyenne, was simply bleak: “That about a thousand men,” she wrote, “should take possession of a public space and, along with it, all the women there is unthinkable. I have no memory, in my entire life, of anything similar.” Of course not. You would have to go back to 1945 for that.
Had the laity of Altoona-Johnstown been disciplined into suppressing their own thoughts? It seems clear that they had been.
George Foster is one local Catholic who didn’t suppress his thoughts. What he did is a model of faith and courage. Here’s the story:
As a small-town businessman, George Foster has immersed himself in civic causes over the years, serving as president of the Rotary, as a director of the Blair County Arts Foundation and as an advocate for Catholic schools at risk of closing.
But his greatest community service may be his dogged, 14-year-long crusade against sexually abusive priests. According to a grand jury report Tuesday, the Altoona businessman became a “novice detective” who painstakingly kept files on priests suspected of sexual abuse, hounded church officials who were reluctant to address abuse claims and, in 2014, turned over his trove of material to state investigators.
“His efforts to expose the conspiracy of silence within the diocese are nothing short of heroic,” said the report, which Attorney General Kathleen Kane released in laying out what she described as a half-century-long scandal involving the abuse of hundreds of minors by priests in the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese.
Mr. Foster, 55, president of a foundation set up to promote the Catholic faith through a radio station and television ads, put it this way: “God allowed the curtain to be pulled back because this is his church, and he’s trying to clean it up using us.”
In 2002, he wrote an angry letter to a local paper demanding a “throw ’em out” policy to sexual offenders in the clergy. People started calling and writing him telling him their own clergy abuse stories. He began investigating these things himself. Cops would call him with tips. More:
Before long, according to the grand jury report, Mr. Foster “found himself in an avalanche of humanity … claiming that priests were molesting young boys.” He gathered letters from the accusers, interviewed victims, studied civil court records, built files on suspected abusers, took his evidence to the diocese, publicly criticized the church’s inaction and shrugged off those who said it was dangerous to be outspoken.
“I only answer to God. … Bishops don’t bother me,” he told the grand jury.
In 2014, Foster, sick of his diocesan authorities doing nothing about the crisis, turned over all his investigative records to the state. And now the truth is out.
I only answer to God. … Bishops don’t bother me. Said the grand jury report: “A concerned Catholic businessman did what so many hadn’t; he built cases against monsters to protect children.”
Here’s a quote from Foster’s grand jury testimony:
But as a Church militant, we have something they (the clergy) don’t know about. Now, people talk about simple stuff. ‘Oh, they don’t know what it’s like to have sex.’ Well, they obviously do here, but I’m saying they don’t know what it’s like to raise children. When you’re a parent, you know what’s right and wrong. We bring that to the Church. There is not a lay parent I talked to that had a question about what you do with a child molester. No one, no one sat there and said, ‘Oh, I’d just be real confused on how to handle this.’ Every parent knew the answer, and that’s the gift we bring. But we’re the Church militant. We’re supposed to get things done.
That right there is a Christian man who has his priorities straight.