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Months after grand jury report, diocese teams with agencies for child sex abuse survivors

Months after a grand jury report pointed to systemic child sex abuse spanning decades at the Dicoese of Altoona-Johnstown, diocesan leaders are taking steps for supporting survivors.

HOLLIDAYSBURG - Months after a grand jury report pointed to systemic child sex abuse spanning decades at the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown, diocesan leaders are taking steps for supporting survivors.

The Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown is "partnering with state and local agencies to offer support to survivors of sexual abuse," according to a release on its website. The release goes on to add that "resources and educational information will be featured regularly" in its biweekly newspaper publication, The Catholic Register.

The diocese says additional information will be shown on Proclaim!, the Diocesan television ministry.

Attorney general Kathleen Kane announced findings in March from a grand jury report that alleged a half-century long child sexual abuse scandal at the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown. Hundreds of children were sexually abused by more than 50 religious leaders and priests of the diocese, according to the report.

"This is an awesome opportunity and the church is very open to expand options for care for survivors of child sexual abuse beyond the diocese," Kristen Houser, MPA, chief public affairs officer of the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape, said on the phone to 6 News.

Houser said additional information written by PCAR will be published on the diocese website in the near future.

"Bishop Mark Bartchak and the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown are firmly committed to protecting children and young people," read a statement on the diocese website. "If you have any information concerning suspected sexual or other abuse of minors, you are urged to report it immediately to: PA Child Line 1-800-932-0313 (intake is available 24/7); Pennsylvania Attorney General Hotline (888) 538-8541; Pennsylvania State Police Headquarters (717) 783-5599 or your local Pennsylvania State Police Station; Your local police department.

"If there is an indication of imminent danger, you should call 911 immediately. The diocese reports all information regarding sexual abuse of minors to law enforcement. You are urged to do the same. Anyone may and should report suspected child sexual abuse! To report to the diocese any suspected abuse of a minor, please call Jean Johnstone at (814) 944-9388."

For a list of local county support for survivors of sexual abuse, click here.

Statement from Bishop Mark Bartchak:

"Last October, Pope Francis pointed out that if the Catholic Church is to be a teaching church, it must also be equally and at the same time a learning church. And he said that in order for this teaching and learning to be effective, we must also be a Church that listens, which is more than hearing. In speaking about last year’s Synod on the Family, Pope Francis underscored the importance of listening to the joys and hope, the sorrow and anguish of God’s people.
"After the publication of the 37th Statewide Investigating Grand Jury Report, I was invited to listen to a representative of the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape (which is concerned about safeguarding persons of all ages from any kind of sexual assault), as well as representatives of several agencies that provide counseling, education, and other services in the eight counties of our Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown.
"I listened and I am learning. I learned especially that we need to do more to educate as many people as possible about sexual abuse of minors and how to keep young people safe.
"Today, I am inviting and urging you to listen and learn with me. Our Diocesan newspaper, The Catholic Register, our Proclaim! television ministry, and our website will regularly feature information and reflections from representatives of public agencies. They will help all of us learn more about sexual abuse and what we can do to prevent it. And we have plans for them to speak to you in person at various places around the diocese.
"As always, I urge anyone with any information about the sexual abuse of children to report it to the proper authorities. The contact information is provided in The Catholic Register and is always available on our website.
"Thank you for joining me as we listen in order to learn, and learn in order to teach and protect."

Statement from PCAR:

"The Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape, seven local rape crisis centers, and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown recently formed a partnership to meet the needs of sexual assault victims and bring attention to the services available for survivors of sexual abuse. A grand jury investigation exposed child sexual abuse perpetrated by priests and religious leaders in the diocese.
"A few weeks after the grand jury report was released, Chairman Josh Shapiro of the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency (PCCD) announced funds from the Victims of Crime Act to assist the victims of abuse in the diocese’s eight counties. Funds will support direct services for victims, including counseling, therapy, and trauma-focused support for adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse.
"In order to identify the needs of centers and determine how to distribute the funds, a meeting was held between PCCD, PCAR, and local rape crisis centers. Leadership at the local rape crisis centers expressed an interest in working with the diocese in their efforts. At a strategic planning meeting, Bishop Mark L. Bartchak met with the centers. It was decided that PCAR and the local centers would be involved in writing articles for The Catholic Register and be interviewed for the weekly television program, Proclaim! to bring awareness to the issues surrounding sexual abuse and promote the services available for survivors.
"Jean Johnstone, the Executive Director of Catholic Charities for this area, has also worked to connect centers with their local Catholic Charities organization to ensure the needs of sexual assault survivors are met and to strengthen collaboration in the community. The diocese will continue to provide information to members about training and prevention efforts available in their county.
"In May, Bishop Mark led three prayer services for victims and survivors of sexual abuse at the Saint Andrew Parish in Johnstown, the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament in Altoona, and Our Lady of Victory Parish in State College. Some of the local rape crisis centers attended these services. Local victim services centers are available in the diocese, including: Your Safe Haven, Inc. in Bedford County; Family Services, Inc. in Blair County; Victim Services, Inc. in Cambria and Somerset Counties; Centre County Women’s Resource Center, Inc.; Clinton County Women’s Center; Women in Need/ Victim Services in Fulton County; and The Abuse Network in Huntington County. For more information about your local center, call PCAR’s toll-free hotline at 1-888-772-7227 or visit www.pcar.org.
"The diocese, PCAR, and local centers are working together to raise awareness of the services available for survivors, and to assist in the healing process of victims and their families."

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