PA--Victims blast Altoona-Johnstown bishop re suspended priest
For immediate release: Friday, Feb. 27
An Altoona-Johnstown priest – Fr. Robert Kelly - has been accused of child sexual abuse. It’s not “misconduct.” That’s deceptive and hurtful.
Fr. Kelly is the 28th Altoona-Johnstown diocesan priest to be publicly accused of molesting kids. (See BishopAccountability.org) We believe the real number is two or three times higher.
Shame on Bishop Mark Bartchak. Like a slimy politician trying to do “damage control,” he disclosed Fr. Kelly’s suspension late on a Friday afternoon, knowing this news would be heard and seen by the fewest possible people and hoping he dodge reporters’ calls. He also knows that a late Friday release means the resulting news coverage will be shorter and less thorough. And shame on him for not putting his terse, callous news release on his diocesan website.
Bishop Bartchak should get busy. First, for the safety of kids, he should disclose Fr. Kelly’s whereabouts. Second, starting this weekend, he should go to every parish where Fr. Kelly worked, begging victims, witnesses and whistleblowers to step forward and call police.
Because that’s what will help ensure Fr. Kelly is kept away from kids the longest.
Because that’s what Bartchak owes his flock.
Because that’s how Bartchak will find others who have been hurt and are still suffering.
Because that’s how Catholic officials will begin to reverse centuries of secrecy, deceit, recklessness, callousness and inaction about child sex crimes and cover ups.
Because that’s how Bartchak will begin to earn the trust he says he wants to restore among parishioners.
Because with Pope Francis heading to Pennsylvania in a few months, Bartchak has a tremendous opportunity, through this kind of courageous and compassionate outreach, to show bishops across the globe the proper and effective way to respond when allegations of child sex crimes surface.
What a refreshing and reassuring move this would be. Imagine how thrilled and grateful Altoona-Johnstown Catholics would be to see their spiritual leader forging a new path and going beyond the bare minimum.
Sending a terse, carefully-crafted, lawyer-vetted four or five sentence media statement sends a weak and depressing signal to the flock. Sending the bishop himself to parishes, in person, to beg anyone with information or suspicions about Fr. Kelly to call 911, would send a strong and encouraging signal to the Altoona-Johnstown flock, especially to the hundreds (perhaps thousands) who have been sexually violated by priests, nuns, seminarians, brothers and other Catholic employees.
We beg those who have knowledge of or suspicions about clergy sex crimes or cover ups to find the strength to reach out, get help, expose wrongdoers, protect others and start healing.
If you saw, suspected or suffered clergy sex crimes or cover ups, we want to hear from you and will protect your confidentiality.
Doing and saying nothing keeps the church unhealthy and keeps kids in danger. Please, search your conscience, find some courage and call independent sources of help – a therapist or our group or police or prosecutors. Don’t call biased Catholic bureaucrats. Call the independent professionals in law enforcement.
Finally, at least five times we’ve criticized Bartchak – as recently as last fall - for his actions in abuse cases. See our website for details.
(SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, is the world’s oldest and largest support group for clergy abuse victims. We were founded in 1988 and have more than 20,000 members. Despite the word “priest” in our title, we have members who were molested by religious figures of all denominations, including nuns, rabbis, bishops, and Protestant ministers. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)