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Crime and Law Enforcement

Grand Jury: Altoona-Johnstown Diocese Hid Sexual Abuse Of Children

(Photo: AP)

A statewide grand jury has found that the Roman Catholic Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown concealed the sexual abuse of hundreds of children at the hands of priests and religious leaders for decades, giving known child molesters the chance to prey on additional victims.

In a presentment released by the state attorney general’s office Tuesday, the grand jury indicated two former bishops, the late James Hogan and retired bishop Joseph Adamec, as being “at the forefront” of a cover-up of abuse allegations. However, the grand jury says the crimes discovered cannot be prosecuted due to a combination of factors: the alleged abusers have died, the statute of limitations for the sexual abuse crimes has expired, and victims are unable to testify.

The grand jury is calling for state lawmakers to scrub the statute of limitations on child sex abuse offenses and to suspend the statute of limitations for civil sexual abuse claims.

The Altoona-Johnstown diocese did not immediately have a comment in response to the grand jury’s findings.

The attorney general’s office says they have not closed their investigation into the eight-county central Pennsylvania diocese, which has been wracked by child sexual abuse lawsuit since at least the 1980s. In 2002, then-Bishop Adamec created a diocesan panel to examine sexual abuse complaints against priests. The years that followed were marked by at least three suicides of clergy under internal investigation for alleged sexual misconduct with minors.

The grand jury found that clergy members accused of abuse were reassigned or sent to temporary “so-called treatment” by diocesan leaders to avoid criminal investigation and scrutiny. The report states that a 69-year-old priest, Martin Cingle, remained in the diocese until last year despite having allegedly groped a boy in 1979. It was the state attorney general’s office which insisted that he be removed.

In a separate case, one diocese priest, 70-year-old Joseph Maurizio, was found guilty last September in federal court for sexually assaulting three Honduran boys over a 10-year span while conducting charity work in Honduras. He is scheduled to be sentenced on Wednesday.