With the Help of Two Catholic Judges, Altoona-Johnstown Priest Continued to Abuse

Altoona-Johnstown Diocese Admin Center

The attorney general’s investigation into Catholic priest abuse in the Pennsylvania diocese of Altoona-Johnstown has sent shockwaves across this primarily rural Catholic area of Pennsylvania.

The shockwaves didn’t result in the revelation that numerous priests from Altoona-Johnstown sexually abused children.  Unfortunately, we’ve heard that tragic story before from other dioceses across the country.  What makes the Altoona-Johnstown situation different is that the attorney general’s report found that the priest molesters were able to continue to abuse more children because they had the assistance of law enforcement and the judicial system which didn’t prosecute the priests.

Monsignor Francis McCaa

One of the cases involved Monsignor Francis McCaa, whom the attorney general report calls a “monster”.  He allegedly sexually abused hundreds of children while serving as a priest at Holy Name Catholic Church in Cambria County.  In spite of the hundreds of abuse allegations, McCaa was never faced a criminal trial for his behavior.  According to a local newspaper investigation, McCaa escaped prosecution because the judge in the case, Judge Gerard Long, was a Catholic parishioner at McCaa’s parish.

Thirty years ago – on Dec. 11, 1986 – the McCaa abuse case was sealed in Cambria County court by now-retired Judge Gerard Long.

According to the Tribune-Democrat, “Long wrote in January 1989 that parties to the case – meaning Bishop James Hogan and McCaa himself – were ‘completely confident that the motions and related matters can be fairly and impartially decided, and they have not questioned this Judge’s integrity at any prior stage or proceeding.’ The attorney general’s report from March tracks meetings between Bishop Hogan and then-Cambria Assistant District Attorney Patrick Kiniry, now a county judge.”

Kiniry said he met with the diocese at the behest of then-DA Long, who told the AG’s investigators in 2015 he was unaware that Kiniry had met with church leaders.

The AG reported that Hogan reassigned McCaa to West Virginia with a “glowing” recommendation. First Long and then Kiniry have since ascended to the Cambria bench.

“Back then the Diocese moved the problem, that’s just how it was,” Kiniry said in the AG’s report.

When law enforcement and the judiciary collude with the Catholic Church to cover up criminal acts by Catholic priests, we have a whole new depth of corruption.  This is just the tip of the iceberg in Altoona-Johnstown.

Louisiana Supreme Court Muddies the Waters Concerning Mandatory Reporting of Sex Abuse

an agonizing decision

The final weekend of the 2016 US presidential campaign grabbed all the headlines but the news out of Louisiana on Friday was significant for those involved in the decades-long issue of Catholic priest sexual abuse.

On Friday, November 4th, the Louisiana Supreme Court ruled that Catholic priests are not mandatory reporters of sexual abuse when they are receiving confidential communications from their parishioners such as in the instance of hearing a confession.  The court’s decision was a major victory for the Catholic Church which has spent decades concealing priests from prosecution and attempting to protect the institution by thwarting efforts to change the statute of limitations on childhood sexual abuse cases.

“Any communication made to a priest privately in the sacrament of confession for the purpose of confession, repentance, and absolution is a confidential communication … and the priest is exempt from mandatory reporter status …” the high court decreed Friday.

However, as a sexual abuse lawyer who has advocated for hundreds of adults who were sexually abused as children by Catholic priests, there is a religious “loophole” for the priest who wants to do the right thing in these horrific cases.  As part of the ritual of confession, the priest hears the confession of sins, advises the person confessing (penitent), and offers a penance or a way of repairing the damage done by the confessed sins.  Once this is done, it is the priest’s decision whether he will offer absolution to the person confessing.  The priest’s decision is based on two factors:  1) Sorrow for the sins committed and, 2) A desire to avoid those sins in the future.  Prior to giving absolution (forgiveness), the priest may counsel the penitent to go to the authorities and acknowledge this crime.  According to the
law of the church, the priest can’t require that the penitent turn himself in or withhold absolution if he refuses to do so.  On the other hand, true sorrow for sin can be demonstrated by a sincere desire to make right what he did wrong.  Catholic priests who recognize the severity of child sexual abuse and the damage it causes should make every effort to make the abuser aware that justice must be done.

The Louisiana Supreme Court’s ruling is a setback for transparency and justice.  It places the power to disclose such a heinous act as child sexual abuse in the hands of the abuser.  That is never going to protect children and remove sexual abusers from harming more children.