As Pennsylvania Confronts Clergy Sex Abuse, Victims and Lawmakers Act
By LAURIE GOODSTEINAPRIL 4, 2016
LORETTO, Pa. — By the age of 12, Maureen Powers, the daughter of a professor at the local Roman Catholic university, played the organ in the magnificent hilltop Catholic basilica here and volunteered in the parish office. But, she said, she was hiding a secret: Her priest sexually abused her for two years, telling her it was for the purpose of “research.”
By her high school years, she felt so tied up in knots of betrayal and shame that she confided in a succession of priests. She said the first tried to take advantage of her sexually, the second suggested she comfort herself with a daily candy bar and the third told her to see a counselor. None of them reported the abuse to the authorities or mentioned that she could take that step.
So when a Pennsylvania grand jury revealed in a report in March that the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown, which includes Loretto, engaged in an extensive cover-up of abuse by as many as 50 church officials, Ms. Powers, now 67, decided to finally report her case. She called the office of the state attorney general and recounted her story, including the name of her abuser, a prominent monsignor who was not listed in the grand jury report.
“I just felt like now, someone will believe me,” said Ms. Powers, who retired after 30 years in leadership positions at the Y.W.C.A. in Lancaster, Pa.Photo
She was not alone. Ms. Powers was among more than 250 abuse survivors and tipsters who called a hotline set up by the Pennsylvania attorney general, Kathleen G. Kane. Twenty agents were needed to answer the phones, and a voice mailbox was set up to handle the overflow.
Nearly 15 years after Boston suffered through a clergy abuse scandal dramatized in the recent movie “Spotlight,” Pennsylvania is going through its own painful reckoning. From the State Capitol in Harrisburg to kitchens in railroad towns, people say they have been stunned to read evidence that priests they knew as pastors, teachers and confessors were secretly abusing children — findings the grand jury report called “staggering and sobering.” Victims are coming forward for the first time to family and friends, and alumni of parochial schools are pulling out their yearbooks, marveling at how smiling faces hid such pain.
Multiplying the outrage, the grand jury report supplied evidence that the police, district attorneys and judges in the Altoona and Johnstown area colluded with bishops in the cover-up, quashing the pleas of parents who tried to blow the whistle on priests who sexually abused children. Some of those officials are named in the report, and some still hold public office.