Imagine for a moment if you, your wife, and your children have been very active members of a parish all your lives. In your old age, one of your children informs you that he was molested decades ago by a parish youth minister, but kept it from you fearing that you might react and kill his abuser. Your son is undergoing therapy as the abuse is impacting his relationship with his wife and children.
When you report the incident to your bishop and the diocesan Safe Environment Coordinator, you do not threaten a lawsuit, but only ask that the diocese help cover the expense of your son’s therapy. Because you live in Pennsylvania and the bishop knows that the statute of limitations prevents you from taking legal action owing to your son’s age, he never responds to your request for help.
You know how clerical sex abuse victims are often moved to become alcoholics, drug abusers, or even commit suicide. You are frustrated that the bishop will not even acknowledge your request for assistance. So you go to your parish pastor and ask that he submit a request to the bishop to either act in a morally responsible manner or resign.
I recently reported a sex abuse case to Bishop Mark Bartchak, Bishop of the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown, involving a former altar boy of Our Lady of Victory (OLV) parish. My email message (see May 18, 2023 letter) was opened by Michele Luciano, the director of the Office of Children and Youth Protection, within minutes. When I failed to receive response, I sent another email on May 20, 2023, including this photo of OLV altar boys. This message was also almost immediately opened by Michele Luciano but received no response.
As of today, nearly 4 weeks after my original message, I still have yet to receive a response. I recently spoke with another family whose son was also abused at Our Lady of Victory. I recommended that they immediately write a letter to Bishop Bartchak and his Communications Director, Tony DeGol. They told me they felt that their concerns fell “on deaf ears.”
I am now writing this open letter requesting all concerned Catholics to contact Bishop Bartchak at email@example.com and Michele Luciano at firstname.lastname@example.org; or alternatively by phone at (814) 695-5579. Please respectfully urge them to offer assistance to the abuse victim who was a devout member of Our Lady of Victory and who continues to be a practicing Catholic to this day.
Bishops are well educated in the Church Canon Law which prescribes penalties for those who engage in or cover up abuse. However, many bishops fail to respond to abuse allegations unless they believe the victim has recourse in civil law.
Pennsylvania’s statute of limitations has expired in the case of this victim, who is now over 50 years of age, so Bishop Bartchak may not feel the diocese is legally liable. While the bishop may be legally correct, he has a moral obligation to provide assistance to this victim.
If this was your son or daughter, how would you feel by the lack of response from the bishop?
I feel a particular responsibility for seeing that justice is done in this case. You see, I was a associate priest assigned to OLV in the mid-1970s. Monsignor Patrick Fleming, the pastor of OLV at that time, put me in-charge of training and scheduling the altar boys. I loved those boys as if they were my own sons. When my college classmates were marrying and having children, I, as a celibate priest, found fulfillment in mentoring the boys under my supervision.
During my tenure at OLV, the number of altar boys doubled in size, from 75 to over 150. When I needed assistance in planning events and retreats for the boys, I accepted help from a parishioner by the name of Chuck Martino who was a Penn State college student. I did not realize that Martino was a homosexual who was attracted to young teenage boys. I encouraged him not to enter the seminary until after he graduated and dated a number of girls to ascertain if he could lead a celibate life and sacrifice marrying and having a family.
Had Monsignor Fleming known Martino was a sexually-active homosexual, he never would have allowed him near the boys or recommended him to study at St. Francis College while in residence at St. Francis Seminary for his junior year. Within four months after arriving, Martino was reported for inappropriate behavior with boys at a nearby parish and dismissed from the seminary. I later learned from a police officer that he was involved in an altercation at an establishment frequented by homosexuals.
Might Martino have abused other boys at OLV? Studies show that most minors (approximately 83%) who were victims of sex abuse take the abuse with them to their graves. While only about a fifth of victims disclose their abuse during childhood, CHILD USA estimates that the average age for reporting child sexual abuse is 52 years old.
I regret that many homosexual-oriented bishops, priests, and communications directors are often psychologically incapable of appreciating the evil involved in sexually abusing young men and boys. Just like a woman who may have been sexually abused as a young girl might have marital problems later in life that stem from her abuse, so too does this happen in the case of married men who were abused as young boys.
In my opinion, the number of Catholics will continue to decrease along with the number of heterosexual-oriented priests and seminarians as long as bishops, priests, and laity fail in their moral responsibility to care for abuse victims like the subject of my letter to Bishop Bartchak.
In March 2017, Bishop Bartchak signed a memorandum of understanding with Acting U.S. Attorney Soo C. Long which stipulated the diocese would abide by “a reporting protocol that requires the Diocese to report allegations of child sexual abuse to law enforcement within twelve hours after receipt; and Counseling and support services for victims by qualified and independent mental health professionals chosen by the victims.”
If Bishop Bartchak refuses to provide “counseling and support services” for this abuse victim after hearing from me and other concerned Catholics, in keeping with what Jesus said in Matthew 18:15-20, I will write to every parish in the diocese making the same request that they urge him to observe the March 2017 memorandum of understanding or resign.
Sincerely in Christ,