TAHS Catholics React to Altoona-Johnstown Diocese Abuse Scandal



The Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament in Altoona.

Catholic parishioners from the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese received shocking news last month when Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane released a grand jury report that detailed the abuse of hundreds of children by at least fifty Catholic priests in the Diocese over the last forty years. The Attorney General did not charge any current priests or church officials with crimes because the statute of limitations has expired on all the cases investigated.  

However, since the Attorney General’s announcement U.S. Attorney David Hickton announced that federal prosecutors may use a federal civil law on organized crime, which does not have a statue of limitations, to prosecute the Diocese.

“I don’t know if the church really is handling it. I think the church is trying to clean up a mess that continues to get messier

— English teacher Kathy Beigle

Also, three Franciscan friars not employed by the Diocese have been charged with committing conspiracy and endangering the welfare of children in connection with the late Brother Stephen Baker, who was accused of sexually abusing boys over a period of many years in several locations in central Pennsylvania, including Bishop McCort High School in Johnstown.

The reaction of Catholic students at Tyrone High School range from sadness to outrage to confusion, but none of the Catholic students we interviewed plan to leave the church over the news.

“I am completely disgusted by what is going on,” said senior Catholic Bella McCracken.

Catholic senior Marlena Wagner said “I don’t know what to say. It makes me really sad, but I’m also sad that some people are leaving the church because of this.”

“The actions of other people will never define my faith. A few people who did wrong do not represent our religion as a whole,” said senior Catholic Kendra Walker.

Sophomore Catholic Matt Beam is saddened by the news but hopes that the public does not judge all priests by the actions of a few.

“Most priests are not like that,” said Beam, “many people hear about this and leave the church, but they shouldn’t. They need faith in God and pray to him for help with this situation.”

Tyrone also has many Catholic faculty and staff, who were also saddened and disappointed by the news.

“Bishops shouldn’t have kept transferring them…if it happens they need to take action,” said high school principal and lifelong Catholic Tom Yoder, “It’s disheartening.”

Social Studies teacher and Catholic Todd Cammarata also has children in Catholic school, which makes the news even more difficult for his family. “We’ve already had a lot of turmoil this year with the school consolidation issue, and now this.  It’s very difficult to explain to our children. While I believe that our children are safe and the vast majority of priests are not guilty of anything, I am extremely disappointed in the church leadership,” said Cammarata.

“I don’t know if the church really is handling it. I think the church is trying to clean up a mess that continues to get messier,” said senior English teacher Kathy Beigle.

I have faith in God and I will continue to pray for his help for them, but not all priests are like that

— Sophomore Matt Beam

The Sunday following announcement of the Grand Jury Report, priests across the area read a letter from the Bishop and discussed the scandal during their homilies.

“I thought it was really good that Father Jozef talked about it during mass,” said sophomore Catholic Brandon Loose, “[but] I think people should be fired.”

While not a Catholic, the news also saddened social studies teacher Cummins McNitt. “The church is both a place and a community. Our church communities are to be gathering much like a family. We need to know that we are always loved and cared for by those in our church family. When either of these concepts are tarnished, we all suffer, whether we are Catholics, Protestants or any religious faith for that matter,” said McNitt.

Despite their shock, the majority of students and teachers agree that it does not damage their faith.

“My belief in God does not change because of the poor judgments humans make,” said Tyrone Ag teacher and St. Matthew’s parishioner Tiffany Hoy, “I see this as a scandal that needs to be dealt with in the criminal world, but my faith does not change.”

“I have faith in God and I will continue to pray for his help for them, but not all priests are like that,” said Beam.