PA-On first anniversary of Altoona-Johnstown grand jury report, victims skeptical of diocesan response
While some progress has been made, survivors still not sure that kids’ safety is a priority
Priest who took the Fifth when questioned under oath is still in a position of authority
Many members of Allegation Review Board still working for diocese, including one who handles reports of child sexual abuse
Promised website listing of the credibly accused is woefully inadequate
Meanwhile, the Catholic Church continues to lobby against SOL reform, shutting the doors of justice to child victims and preventing additional predators from being exposed
Holding signs and childhood photos, clergy sex abuse survivors and their supporters will:
--Recap progress made by the Altoona-Johnstown diocese on the first anniversary of the grand jury report;
--Point out work that the diocese has yet to do to ensure the safety of its children;
--Question whether kids are any safer today than they were before the massive cover-up was exposed; and
--Express outrage at the Church’s continued opposition to necessary changes to the statute of limitations
Wednesday, March 1st at 11:00 a.m.
On the sidewalk outside the Altoona-Johnstown diocesan headquarters, 927 S. Logan Boulevard (corner of Hawthorne Street) in Hollidaysburg, PA.
Three to four members of a victims’ support group called SNAP (the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests) and their supporters, including a St. Louis woman who is SNAP’s Midwest Associate Director and the two new SNAP leaders for the Altoona-Johnstown area.
One year ago today a grand jury report excoriated the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown for its systemic cover-up of child sexual abuse.
At the time of the report, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) held a press conference blasting the diocese for its past behavior and asking it to take several concrete actions in response.
On the first anniversary of the grand jury report the victims’ group is again standing in front of the diocesan headquarters, this time to speak out about what the diocese has, and has not, done in the interim.
Last year SNAP recommended that Bishop Mark L. Bartchak fire Father John Byrnes, who was singled out in the grand jury report, as well as every member of the Allegation Review Board.
Byrnes took the Fifth when summoned before the grand jury and refused to answer its questions.
The victims’ group was disturbed to find that Byrnes continues in a position of authority and leadership in the diocese. He is the Judicial Vicar for Altoona-Johnstown, in addition to serving on the Presbyteral Council.
The small group of survivors could find no information on the Allegation Review Board on the current diocesan website, and was not sure what to make of this.
SNAP was also unhappy to discover that four people associated with the former Allegation Review Board still serve in the diocese.
Jean Johnstone remains the diocesan contact for victims who need “support and assistance in their healing.” Johnstone was not mentioned by name in the 2016 SNAP media advisory, but a screen shot taken of the Allegation Review Board’s page on March 7, 2016, the day of last year’s event, has Johnstone in this position.
Of those members of the Allegation Review Board named by SNAP last year, Sister Donna Marie Leiden is the Director of Education for the diocese.
Colleen Krug works in the diocese’s Education Office, as well as in the Office of Youth Protection.
Father Joseph W. Fleming is a priest in the diocese and works at a parish and on the Priests’ Personnel Board.
The group also pointed out that the grand jury report identified more than 50 priests and religious leaders who had sexually abused children in the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown.
Last year the bishop pledged to post the names on the diocesan website.
However, while a list has been posted, SNAP noted that it contained only 28 names, and no other information helpful to victims and to the public, such as photos, work histories, and current locations.
Jones and the other SNAP leaders also blasted the Church for continuing to stand in the way of SOL reform in Pennsylvania.
A more complete list of those accused in the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese can be found here.
Judy Jones ( 636-433-2511, SNAPjudy@gmail.com), Thomas Venditti (412-601-1534,firstname.lastname@example.org), John.Nesbella (814 243-5213, John.Nesbella@GDSATCOM.com ), Barbara Dorris (314-503-0003, bdorris@SNAPnetwork.org)
50 State AG Call for Grand Jury
Any investigation must be:
- independent of and separate from the church
- must have subpoena powers and ability to compel testimony under oath
Anything short of these criteria is a sham and whitewash.
In addition, write letters to the editor, make phone calls to politicians as they can apply pressure to keep them responsive to our demand. We need to make efforts to ensure that they follow up on what the state is doing to investigate these crimes.
The Attorneys General of forty states have inquired about the grand jury process in Pennsylvania. Let's get statewide investigations going in fifty states.
Note to Letter Writers
Use your own words and style of writing. Cut and paste from the templates as you wish. Include your experiences, whether as a survivor or as a member of the community. And relate your letter to the state you were abused in or state now living in.