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Survivors, community members seek change one year after Diocese grand jury report

HOLLIDAYSBURG -- Survivors of clergy sex abuse and community supporters stood at the foot of the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown.

Signs and pictures of alleged victims were in hand as the group demanded change on a rainy March morning.

"Any priest that has touched a child inappropriately needs to resign," said Thomas Venditti.

One year ago, life changed for many members of the Catholic faith in the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown: a 147-page grand jury report was released.

Fifty priests and religious leaders were accused of horrific abuse against children dating back to the early 1960s. The report laid out a detailed record and revealed a secret diocesan fund that authorities say showed the diocese paid victims specific amounts of money for the level of sexual abuse a victim endured.

"What changes?" asked Shaun Dougherty aloud.

Dougherty, a victim himself, has been outspoken since he announced last summer, first with PennLive.com, that he had been abused.

"No suits have been filed, no discovery motions have been filed," said Dougherty.

One year after the report, the Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office could not confirm or deny if the investigation continues.

But no charges have been filed.

"Of all institutions, we would expect the church to be on the side of the powerless and the weak and the hurt people," said John Nesbella.

Nesbella, a former priest in the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown, has said for the last decade he was a victim of clergy sex abuse.

"I've kind of lost hope that they are ever going to reform themselves," said Nesbella. "That's why we have to change the laws to force them to do it."

Nesbella is now a co-leader of a new chapter of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, SNAP, in the Altoona-Johnstown region, along with Venditti.

Venditti identified himself as a former teacher at Bishop Guilfoyle High School.

Among the changes the group said it sought last year and is still seeking now are the firing of a priest who took the Fifth under oath during testimony and the release of several members on the Allegation Review Board at the diocese.

"I believe there should be a ban on new vocations to the TOR Franciscans, a temporary ban until questions are answered," said Venditti.

No one at the diocese would answers questions on camera on Wednesday. Tony DeGol, a spokesperson for the diocese, emailed 6 News a statement:

The release of the Grand Jury report was heartbreaking for all Catholics, and it was especially painful for the survivors of sexual abuse and their loved ones. Our thoughts and prayers are with them today and always. Over the past year, Bishop Bartchak has devoted much of his time to collaborating with a diverse group of stakeholders to develop a new comprehensive approach that will help to make the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown a leader in the field of youth protection. We will be announcing the product of these efforts in the near future. We cannot change the past, but we have certainly learned from it. In that spirit, Bishop Bartchak is focused on the present and the future. He remains committed to the safety and protection of all children and youth in Diocese, and he pledges continued support to those who have been harmed. As always, we urge anyone with any information concerning the sexual abuse of minors to report it to authorities immediately.

"When it comes down to it, they just don't really care about the safety of kids. What has taken so long? They say they have a plan in the future to do things? When? It's been a whole year," said Judy Jones, an associate director for SNAP Midwest.

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