Dougherty’s ‘pilgrimage’ to Rome: Johnstown native recounts Vatican summit experience, musical moment of clarity

Shaun Dougherty, a Johnstown resident and victims advocate, gestures during an interview at The Tribune-Democrat on Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019. Dougherty spoke about attending a meeting that brought almost 200 bishops from across the world to the Vatican to discuss the church’s ongoing issues with child sexual abuse and cover-up.

Johnstown-area native Shaun Dougherty, once again, is scheduled to meet with one of the highest officials in the Roman Catholic Church to share his thoughts about the issue of clergy sexual abuse.

He expects to talk with Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, on Wednesday in Baltimore.

In February, Dougherty, a Westmont resident and internationally known advocate for victims, met with organizers of “The Protection of Minors in the Church” gathering held at Vatican City, where he also unsuccessfully tried to get an audience with Pope Francis.

“Just like I wanted to speak to the pope when I was in Rome, as the head of the church, the next best thing, in my opinion, is the head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops,” Dougherty said. “What they decide will be directly related to what’s going on in our country. To have the ear of the president of that organization, yeah, I think it’s a big step.”

A request for a comment from DiNardo was made to the media department of his Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.

No statement about his scheduled meeting with Dougherty was provided.

Dougherty, a clergy abuse survivor, said he planned to ask DiNardo to provide more therapy for abuse victims, pointing out that religious leaders can get treatment at St. John Vianney Center in Chester County.

“It’s ironic, I think, that they have a treatment center specified for the mental and physical health and well-being of predator priests, but yet they don’t have that system in place for the victims,” Dougherty said. “I think that’s unconscionable. I am going to challenge the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to fund – not run, because most victims don’t want anything to do with the church – treatment centers, eight of them, one within each (Pennsylvania) diocese’s geography. Not on diocese property. Not a religious aspect to it.”

He also wants the church to stop opposing a change to the commonwealth’s statute of limitations law that would provide a two-year retroactive window for victims to file civil claims in cases where the deadline has already passed.

Seven of Pennsylvania’s eight dioceses set up compensation funds to provide financial support to victims.

Only the Roman Catholic Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown did not. But the diocese previously spent nearly $21.5 million from July 1, 1999, through Dec. 1, 2018, for settlements/awards, legal fees, survivor counseling and compensation. That total included salaries, benefits and counseling for clergy members who were removed from the ministry while awaiting the outcomes of Canonical investigation.

“In Pennsylvania, it’s time for them to give,” Dougherty said. “The jig is up. Their compensation funds are working. They’re cleaning up their backyards, so there is no need for them to obstruct the legislative body in Pennsylvania, blocking the window. There’s no need for that any more.”

Almost 300 members of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops are attending a general assembly in Baltimore to address the issue of sexual abuse.

“The primary rule which must be instituted by the Catholic Bishops who have been part of the historical cover-up and who have failed children miserably should simply be to call the police,” said Boston attorney Mitchell Garabedian, who has represented dozens of abuse victims in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown.

“It would be folly to think that the culture of sexual abuse and cover-up within the Catholic Church is going to change because of written rules made by the Catholic bishops who thrive in that culture and practice self-acclaim,” Garabedian said.

“History is getting tired of the deception and criminality within the Catholic Church.”

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