'Soul Murder' in Altoona

Michael Reagan
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Posted: Mar 03, 2016 10:23 AM
'Soul Murder' in Altoona

If you've seen the excellent movie "Spotlight," you know what it takes for a newspaper to expose the sexual abuse of children by priests in the Catholic Church.

"Spotlight," which won the Academy Award for best picture of 2015, is the true story of how the Boston Globe's investigative Spotlight team uncovered the massive scandal of child molestation and cover-up within the Boston Archdiocese.

Challenging one of the most powerful institutions in Boston, digging up the ugly truth and detailing it on Page 1 took a strong mix of principle and guts by the Globe's editor, Marty Baron.

Many journalists and editors around the country before him had heard similar charges about priests repeatedly molesting children in their cities and towns, but they had done nothing.

The Globe's in-depth investigation, which began in 2001, made headlines around the world, shamed the Boston Archdiocese and shook the entire Catholic Church to its core.

It set off a series of exposes in other cities that proved that the problem the Catholic Church - my church - was having with serial pedophiles was nothing new or restricted to Boston.

Soon after, the L.A. Times, my hometown paper, showed that for decades the hierarchy of the Los Angeles diocese "plotted to keep law enforcement from learning that children had been molested at the hands of priests."

In 2005 and 2011 grand jury probes found rampant child abuse in the Philadelphia Archdiocese, which included moving known pedophiles around from one unsuspecting parish to another.

What went on in L.A. and Philly fit the pattern described in the 2012 HBO documentary, "Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God."

As I wrote in the 2013, that powerful documentary proved that from Ireland to Wisconsin "the church's bishops and cardinals have a long and disgusting history of protecting pedophile priests, ignoring children's allegations of sexual abuse, paying the parents of victims to keep quiet and keeping the sex crimes of priests secret from law enforcement."

We can now add the diocese of Altoona, Pa., to the Church's list of sins against children.

The headlines in Tuesday's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette told a familiar story: "Grand jury: Altoona diocese concealed sex abuse of hundreds of children by priests."

According to a graphic 147-page report by a state grand jury, at least 50 Catholic priests and other Church members in the western Pennsylvania town had molested and raped hundreds of kids between the 1940s and the 1980s.

What the pedophiles did to kids at summer camp, in their own homes and in Altoona's cathedral was not only covered up by their bishops and their immediate superiors, it also was abetted by judges, sheriffs and other law enforcement officials in two counties who knew about the abuse.

The grand jury report said the sleazy church-state conspiracy to avoid public scandal and protect known and dangerous pedophiles in Altoona amounted to the "soul murder" of the victims.

As someone who was molested by a day camp counselor in third grade, I understand what that term means all too well.

The most frustrating part of the Altoona investigation, which is ongoing, is that the abusers and their enablers - though known -- are never going to be indicted or punished.

Some of the guilty are dead. Some of their victims were too traumatized to testify.

But in most cases it's too late to prosecute because the statute of limitations for criminal and civil cases that was in effect at the time of the crimes was only two or three years.

The law has been changed. Victim now have until age 30 to sue for child abuse in civil court and in some cases are able to file criminal charges until they turn 50.

But Pennsylvania should join other states and do what its grand jury report proposes - completely remove all statutes of limitations for child abuse.

If the Catholic Church is sincerely sorry for its sins, and truly interested in preventing future victims of pedophila, it will publicly support that idea.