One of the reasons that the movie “Spotlight” has resonated so deeply with the public is that the story is a familiar one. The abuse and cover-ups that took place in the Boston area are strikingly similar to cases that occurred all around the United States, including in Pennsylvania.
This week, news outlets discussed a 147-page grand jury report about clergy sexual abuse in the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese. Although widespread sex abuse allegations in the diocese were already public knowledge, the new report focuses on evidence taken from a “secret diocesan archive opened through a search warrant over the summer.” That evidence shows the significant role that two bishops played in covering up abuse committed by more than 50 priests over a period lasting longer than four decades.
The two bishops named in the report are James Hogan (1966-1986) and Joseph Adamec (1986-2011). Hogan died in 2005, and Adamec had refused to testify in front of the grand jury.
Unfortunately, despite the hundreds of victims abused by these priests, no criminal charges are being filed. This is due to lack of victim testimony, expiration of statutes of limitation and/or the deaths of some of the accused priests.
The report makes clear that these two bishops (and church officials generally) were much more concerned with protecting abusive priests than with protecting children. Victims who could not be threatened and bullied into silence were paid off as quietly as possible. One of the bishops even created a “payout chart” as a guide for compensating victims based on the specific abuse acts they suffered.
Any act of sexual abuse is horrendous. But it is even more horrendous to realize that hundreds of additional victims could have been spared if bishops and other church leaders would have taken steps to stop these pedophile priests before they went on to abuse other victims.
There is no neutral stance when it comes to protecting children against sexual abuse. Those who have knowledge of the problem and the power to act must intervene.