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Grand Jury Reveals Hundreds Abused In Altoona-Johnstown Diocese

by: Geoff Rushton

A statewide grand jury determined that at least 50 priests or religious leaders in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown sexually abused hundreds of children over a period of 40 years, Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane announced Tuesday.

Of those named in the grand jury testimony, there are priests who were connected to both Penn State and the State College area.

The 147-page grand jury report details evidence alleging abuse as well as a history of superiors in the diocese taking action to conceal the child abuse as part of an effort to protect the institution’s image. The report, which contains graphic content, can be read here.

Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown parishes are located within eight counties — Bedford, Blair, Cambria, Centre, Clinton, Fulton, Huntingdon and Somerset. There are more than 90,000 Catholics in the area the Diocese covers, according to the grand jury.

“The heinous crimes these children endured are absolutely unconscionable,” Kane said. “These predators desecrated a sacred trust and preyed upon their victims in the very places where they should have felt most safe.

“Just as troubling is the cover-up perpetrated by clergy leaders that allowed this abuse to continue for decades. They failed in our society’s most important task of protecting our children.”

A search warrant executed by Kane’s office in August 2015 uncovered substantial evidence alleging former Bishops James Hogan and Joseph Adamec — who, combined led the diocese from 1966 through 2011 — took action to conceal the abuse. The grand jury report described a “secret archive” with documents detailing children being sexually abused by members of the diocese. Among the documents uncovered were Hogan’s written notes, letters and documents sent to Adamec, several sexual abuse victim statements, correspondence with offending priests and internal correspondence.

Hogan was bishop from 1966 to 1987 and died in 2005. Adamec was bishop from 1987 to 2011. The grand jury report states both bishops took steps to move priests to new locations, mandate treatment and otherwise avoid reporting numerous instances of abuse to law enforcement. Current bishop Mark Bartchak is not accused of wrongdoing. Kane commended Bartchak for removing alleged abusers from positions of power. The grand jury urged Bartchak to continue to report allegations and create a victim assistance program.

Adamec, investigators found, created a “pay-out chart,” for levels of abuse, with suggested payments to victims from $10,000-$175,000 based on the nature of abuse.

“The Grand Jury notes the cold bureaucracy of this chart,” the report states. “The problem Bishop Adamec denied in public was a problem he secretly acknowledged to himself and the Diocesan insurance.”

No indictment was issued by the grand jury. While Kane said the investigation is continuing, she said that none of the criminal acts alleged in the grand jury report can be prosecuted due to several factors including deaths of alleged abusers, traumatized victims being unable to testify in court and statute of limitations having expired.

The grand jury credited George Foster, a businessman and Catholic in the diocese, who wrote a newspaper editorial after becoming concerned with allegations of sexual abuse by clergy within the diocese. Victims began to write to and visit Foster. He reviewed documents from a 1990s civil case against the diocese and a priest accused of molesting a boy, and received tips as others learned of his investigation. Foster provided his files to the Attorney General’s office in 2014.

Kane said victims and others with information concerning the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown should contact the Office of Attorney General at 888-538-8541, a toll-free, dedicated hotline established for the case.

Among those named in the report who served at one time in State College and Bellefonte churches are:

Rev. Martin Cingle

Cingle, now 69-years-old, is accused of having fondled a 16-year-old boy in 1979 while Cingle was assigned to Our Lady of Victory in State College. The victim had been a parish altar boy. The grand jury report said the victim in 2002 approached Adamec, who in turn sent Cingle for counseling that concluded after a month, after which Cingle was returned to full-time ministry.

Cingle, who served at Our Lady of Victory from 1978-1981, testified to the grand jury that he could have accidentally fondled the boy, and Adamec told investigators that Cingle previously told him the fondling may have been accidental. Following a letter from the attorney general’s office in 2015 urging Cingle’s removal from active ministry, current bishop Bartchak suspended Cingle.

Fr. David Arsenault

Arsenault was the Diocesan Director of Campus Ministry for the Diocese of Altoona – Johnstown. According to the report he was counseling a 17 year old male he later assaulted. He tired to grab the male’s genitals during one of the counseling sessions before Arsenault woke the male up by inappropriately touching and kissing him while in Washington D.C. The male, who attempted suicide twice after the assaults, said Arsenault confessed 80 percent of Catholic Priests are gay, including himself.

Arsenault also served at the Most Holy Trinity Church in Huntingdon until this month the Tribune Democrat reported. According to his bio on the Most Holy Trinity Church website, he also served in a variety of campus ministry positions including campus minister at Juniata College, Penn State University – Altoona Campus, and Penn State University – University Park.

He admitted to engaging in “horseplay” when questioned in 2005 before invoking his right against self-incrimination in 2015.

Rev. Paul Coleman

Coleman, now deceased, was a priest at St. John the Evangelist in Bellefonte from 1975-1979. In 1979 the parents of a 10-year-old boy who was a student at St. John’s Elementary School told then-bishop Hogan about changes in the child in which he seemed anxious during the previous months. The boy later told Hogan that Coleman “practiced ‘hypnosis’ and would invite little boys to spend the night in the rectory,” according to the grand jury report. While there, Coleman allegedly engaged in inappropriate touching and asked to take photos of boys in their underwear.

Hogan told Coleman, who denied wrongdoing, to keep children out of the rectory and discuss the matter with the parents of the victim. Coleman returned to active ministry at St. John’s but was soon transferred to churches in Johnstown where he was again accused of sexual abuse. Coleman was sent for what was described as treatment at a convent in Cresson in 1987. According to documents presented to the grand jury, Coleman failed to comply with the treatment and was eventually suspended in 1988, never returning to the ministry.

Rev. William Crouse

Crouse, deceased, was assigned to St. John’s in Bellefonte from 1979 to 1980, but the grand jury report does not include any accusations during that time. Crouse is accused of rape and abuse of a 14-year-old boy while serving in New Jersey between 1968-70. The victim reported the alleged abuse to Adamec in 2002, who then interviewed Crouse. According to the grand jury report, Crouse admitted to “what would be called ‘child molestation’ today.” A therapist told Adamec that Crouse was not a “pedophile” nor “a danger to anyone.” Crouse retired following his evaluation by a therapist.

Rev. Robert Kelly

Kelly, 68, was assigned to Our Lady of Victory from 1974-1978 and again from 1984-1985. He was accused of sexually abusing a 12-to-13-year-old boy between 1975-1977. In 1993, the diocese acted on a complaint from a victim, and removed Kelly from ministry for a year, after which time he returned to being a parish priest at churches in Altoona and Phillipsburg and was told to avoid contact with young people. Documents from the diocese presented to the grand jury described Kelly as “pedophilic” and “sexual.” He was suspended in 2015.

Rev. George Koharchik

Koharchik, 67, was assigned to St. John’s from 1986-1987 and went on to serve at several other churches in the diocese until he resigned in 2012. The grand jury report does not specify when the accusations are alleged to have occurred, but that he groped children in his car and that he had abused children prior to 1994. According to grand jury testimony included in the report, Koharchik was asked if contact with certain victims’ intimate areas “was done with some sense of sexual gratification.” Koharchik replied, “Yes.”

Rev. Martin McCamley

McCamley, 79, had his final assignment in the diocese at Our Lady of Victory in 1995 and had served in the diocese since his ordination in 1962. Accusations of abuse in the grand jury report are alleged to have occurred prior to his time in State College. The first accusation came in 1981 when Hogan was told McCamley had fondled a 16-year-old boy in Johnstown. The report was dismissed and McCamley continued to serve as vice principal of Bishop McCort High School.

McCamley is also alleged to have had a sexual relationship with another priest named in the report, Rev. James Bunn, and in 2001 was accused of abusing 13-year-old victim in 1977 who had previously been abused by Bunn. Another complaint of abuse was made in 2008 by a victim who said McCamley inappropriately touched him during his tenure at a Johnstown church in the 1960s. McCamley was evaluated in 2001 and 2003 and retired in 2004.

Rev. Gerard Ream

Ream, deceased, was assigned to Our Lady of Victory from 1954-1961. The allegation against him occurred when he developed a personal relationship with a female student while teaching at Bishop Carroll High School in the late 1960s. After the student went to college, he developed a sexual relationship with her during her visits home. When she entered a relationship with a male college student, she said Ream became possessive and harassed her via phone calls. The incident was reported in 2008, the same year Ream died.

We’ll keep you updated as the story unfolds. 

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