Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Umasking of a 'monster': Report exposes how church abuse case was handled by Cambria County legal system

Msgr. Francis McCaa was allegedly one of the most egregious sexual abusers of children in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Altoona–Johnstown.

A grand jury report issued earlier this year by the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General, which detailed an alleged decades-long coverup of abuse in the diocese, succinctly called him a “monster” with a “sickening hunger for innocence.”

The report alleges, based on testimony from interviewed victims, that McCaa may have abused hundreds of children when he served at Holy Name Catholic Church in Ebensburg from 1961 to 1985.

A civil case was brought against McCaa in 1986. 

Pretrial records were sealed by a Cambria County judge on Dec. 11, 1986, leaving them unseen until they were opened this year following an appeal by The Tribune-Democrat. 

The number of victims in that case was redacted.

“The sheer number of children that McCaa offended was staggering,” said Daniel Dye, an attorney with the AG’s office who has played a lead role in investigating the diocese.

The attorney general’s report claims McCaa reached under vestments to squeeze boys’ genitals and fondled children in the confessional. 

He reportedly told one altar boy that “if you ever use this I’m going to rip it off” when gripping the victim’s penis.

But McCaa was loved and respected by many people in the church community.

In the report, one alleged victim recalls his mother slapping him after he told her McCaa reached inside the child’s pocket and touched his genitals. She said the monsignor was “just being friendly.”

“McCaa completely integrated the abuse of children into his role as a priest,” Dye said.

‘Lives ... torn apart’

McCaa was sent for evaluation in December 1985 and then served at a veterans hospital in West Virginia. He eventually retired from the ministry in 1993 and died in 2007, but his alleged actions still impact the diocese.

One of his accusers, Brian Gergely, became an outspoken critic of the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese’s handling of child sexual abuse allegations.

Gergely, from a devout Catholic family, was allegedly abused by McCaa, beginning when Gergely was 10 years old.

“I was standing in the sacristy and he pinned me to the desk. I was just a little guy,” Gergely said during a March interview with The Guardian, a British newspaper.

In July, Gergely, 46, committed suicide by hanging himself.

At least one of McCaa’s other alleged victims killed himself before Gergely, according to the attorney general’s report. 

Others reported suffering difficulties in personal relationships, damage to their sexuality, doubting faith in God and having flashbacks “when hearing church bells.”

“The Grand Jury has no doubt that many young lives were torn apart by Monsignor Francis McCaa as he used his position and authority to murder the dignity of these children,” according to the March report that gathered information from at least 15 of McCaa’s alleged victims.

‘Bad as may be!’

McCaa’s story takes up more than four full pages in the grand jury report.

Details are provided about Bishop James Hogan meeting with then Cambria County Assistant District Attorney Patrick Kiniry to discuss allegations of sexual abuse against the priest. 

In his own handwritten notes, the late bishop stated the district attorney’s office, led by Gerard Long at the time, was already aware of the matter and representatives of the office planned to meet with the families of the children.

“They will try to defuse,” Hogan wrote. “But, while the D.A. may refuse to sign the complaint, the issue could be taken to one of the 4 Judges – who might or might not order the D.A. to sign. The officials must be careful not to whitewash if complaint is filed with lads support, no option! Bad as may be!”

Long, who went on to become a Cambria County judge, testified before the grand jury in September 2015 that he had no knowledge his assistants in the district attorney’s office met with diocese officials. 

But Kiniry indicated he met with Hogan at Long’s request, according to the report.
The AG’s document states that following the interaction between the diocese and DA’s office, McCaa was sent to West Virginia, with a “glowing” recommendation from Hogan.

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

In the immediate aftermath of the report’s release, Kiniry resigned his position with the Bishop McCort Catholic High School board of trustees. 

The attorney general’s investigation into the entire diocese grew out of looking into alleged child sexual abuse perpetrated by Brother Stephen Baker at Bishop McCort.

‘Times have changed’

Kiniry, now a Cambria County judge, was approached for an interview with The Tribune-Democrat. 

He declined.

Shortly after the grand jury report was released, Kiniry disputed information put out about him by another news outlet. 

At the time, he asked the state’s Judicial Ethics Committee for permission to publicly defend himself and discuss the report. Kiniry said the group rejected his request.

“I follow that now,” he said during a phone conversation.

Kiniry did discuss the McCaa issue with The Tribune-Democrat in 2002, saying, “You have to understand that it was a different time.

“Then, more so than now, people were opposed to subjecting children to the exposure that a case like that would bring,” Kiniry said in 2002. “At the time, the thinking was, ‘I want something done, but protect my child from publicity.’ Definitely the thinking has changed. The times have changed.”

The grand jury report mentioned Kiniry’s Catholicism, even quoting his testimony – “You have to understand, this is an extremely Catholic county.” – and explaining how Kiniry had attended Catholic school, worshiped in a Catholic church, and served as an altar boy.

When asked to explain the actions of prosecutors in his office, Long reportedly told the grand jury that his assistants were both “pretty strict Catholics.”

Kiniry’s record, though, includes filing charges against a Catholic priest for sexual misconduct.

In 2007, when Kiniry served as the county’s district attorney, the Rev. Gerard Majella Connolly was investigated and accused of 12 felony counts of institutional sexual assault and five counts of taking contraband into the prison when ministering at State Correctional Institution-Cresson. 

Connolly was placed in Cambria County’s Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition program for first-time offenders and received 23 months probation.

The Franciscan priest also reached a financial settlement with his victim.

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