The Most Rev. Mark L. Bartchak

The Most Rev. Mark L. Bartchak, Bishop of the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown speaks about an attorney general's report of widespread child sexual abuse by priests across the diocese, during a news conference at Diocesan Administration Center, Hollidaysburg, Thursday, March 3, 2016.

HOLLIDAYSBURG – Bishop Mark Bartchak broke his silence with an apology on Thursday.

Just two days earlier, Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane released a grand jury report that accused the Roman Catholic Diocese of Altoona–Johnstown, including former Bishop James Hogan and former Bishop Joseph Adamec, of participating in a decades-long cover-up of rampant child sex abuse.

Bartchak did not comment on the report until he held a press conference inside the diocese’s administrative center in Hollidaysburg.

“As bishop of the diocese, I extend my heartfelt and sincere apology,” Bartchak said at the start of his comments that lasted a little longer than 10 minutes. “I apologize to the victims, to their families, to the faithful people of our diocese, to the good priests of our diocese and to the public.”

The report commended Bartchak for removing accused child predators from the ministry. He was also encouraged to “create a real and meaningful victim assistance program.”

“I acknowledge that there are a number of recommendations made in the report involving how we respond to allegations of abuse,” Bartchak said. “I take them seriously. I appreciate the grand jury’s recognition of the progress we have made.”

Increasing transparency

Bartchak said he has worked to increase transparency and will continue to make information about accused predators known.

The diocese has, according to the bishop, re-examined allegations, removed clergy, reported information to civil authorities, strengthened training programs, and met with victim survivors. He plans to send all reports of abuse to law enforcement, review the diocese’s policies for youth protection and take other steps.

“I will publish a list of priests who have been the subject of credible allegations, along with each priest’s current status, and that list will be posted on our website,” Bartchak said.

David Clohessy, director of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, has called on Bartchak to go even further.

“We’re glad he says he’ll post predators’ names on his website,” Clohessy said. “But he should put them on parish websites too, and post them prominently, permanently and promptly. He should also include all predators – living or deceased, diocesan or religious order, and regardless of whether they are priests, nuns, brothers, seminarians, bishops or other church employees. He should have done this years ago.

“And he should include their photos, whereabouts and work histories.”

Clohessy is not optimistic reform will come.

“Bartchak’s pledge to reform internal church policies is worthless,” Clohessy said. “Bishops rarely follow their own policies. They are secretive monarchs. There are no checks and balances on a king. So Bartchak and his staff can promise anything. But there’s no way anyone will know if he keeps these promises. And when he breaks them, there will be no punishment. So church abuse protocols, policies and procedures are meaningless.”

Alleged cover-up

Kane’s report accused Adamec of covering up child abuse by priests during his time as bishop from 1987 to 2011.

Adamec responded to the allegations by issuing a statement, through his lawyer, stating that between 1987 and 2002, he learned about accusations made against 14 living diocesan priests, nine of whom were suspended from public ministry or retired “many with the imposition of conditions prohibiting public ministry.” Then, beginning in 2002, Altoona-Johnstown implemented a Diocesan Allegations Review Board, which determines whether an accusation is credible.

The retired bishop still performs duties within the diocese.

“He said that he would not be celebrating Mass at this time,” Bartchak said. “Anything that would happen further is not for me to say necessarily because bishops are subject to the discipline of our superior, who is the pope.”

‘Secret archive’

The grand jury report mentioned a “secret archive” of information kept by the diocese.

Investigators found slightly more than 115,000 documents, including handwritten notes by Hogan, letters from Adamec, sexual abuse victim statements and internal correspondence, that the attorney general said provided details of a cover-up.

“As far as the ‘secret files’ are concerned, many people don’t understand exactly what they refer to,” Bartchak said. “The terminology is an expression that’s translated from Latin, which doesn’t normally translate into words, the language that we would be accustomed to. It basically refers to files that are kept secure and that have limited access, and most organizations have such files, especially when it deals with personnel matters.

“But, as far as how those files will be treated in the future, that’s for further review.”

Sharing a message

Bartchak plans to offer more of his thoughts to worshipers during services this weekend.

“We are a people of faith,” Bartchak said. “I will share a message with the people of our diocese this weekend through their pastors, and plans are being made for special prayer services of mercy in the coming weeks. Finally, I ask everyone that we turn to our lord for comfort and healing from these wounds, as we pray for those who have been harmed, for all those who are affected, for the many priests in our diocese who have been faithful to their vocation, and to all the people they serve.”

Dave Sutor is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at (814) 532-5056. Follow him on Twitter @Dave_Sutor.

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