Monsignor Francis B. McCaa, a Roman Catholic priest assigned to parishes in western Pennsylvania between 1948 and 1985, has been described as “a monster.”
According to a grand jury report recently released by the office of Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane, McCaa is estimated to have sexually abused hundreds of boys during his decades in the priesthood. And yet McCaa, who died in 2007, successfully avoided prosecution for his alleged string of abominable actions.
How could this happen?
The story of high-ranking Roman Catholic officials who never paid for their crimes is sadly all-too familiar; after all, it is now common knowledge that the Catholic Church engaged in a decades-long, worldwide cover-up on behalf of thousands of priests who exploited their positions of power and trust to abuse children. What is less widely known, however, is that in many cases clergymen like McCaa had help from officials outside the church hierarchy – namely government agents, including police officers, prosecutors and judges.
Tragically, it’s now clear that the close ties between church and state in many areas, as well as the political power of the Catholic Church, delayed or prevented justice for the victims of clergy abuse throughout the United States. In some instances, records show that government officials knew about some of the abuse but failed to act because the church was so closely intertwined with the government to the point that the state actually aided and abetted the church in its cover-up campaign.
This isn’t just a dark chapter in the church’s past. Even now, in light of all that has happened, the Roman Catholic hierarchy is still working to cover its misdeeds and dodge responsibility for them by blocking efforts to expand the statutes of limitations on child-abuse cases in some states.
The Pennsylvania grand jury report details accusations of abuse by as many as 50 Catholic clergy in the western part of the state, and like most of the men cited in that document, McCaa likely could not have reportedly victimized so many children were it not for a particularly alarming conspiracy in which local Catholic leaders sought – and received – cover from the government.
David Clohessy, executive director of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) told Church & State that the reasons behind this sort of government-aided smokescreen are complex.
“Some [government agents] do so for selfish reasons, because they fear incurring the wrath of powerful church officials,” Clohessy said. “Some do so out of misguided loyalty to the faith they love. Many do so because it’s just safer, easier and more comfortable to pursue clerics who commit child sex crimes, not their powerful supervisors who conceal child sex crimes. In some cases, timid prosecutors claim archaic or weak laws prevent them from effectively prosecuting the church hierarchy.”
By 1985, Bishop James J. Hogan of the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese had reportedly been made aware that McCaa sexually abused altar boys over the years. Afraid that McCaa’s actions would become public, Hogan preemptively met with two Pennsylvania assistant district attorneys, Patrick Kiniry and Dennis McGlynn, to discuss the matter. In detailed notes taken during the meeting, Hogan wrote that the two prosecutors said this was a “delicate situation” for both the district attorney’s office and the Cambria County courts. Soon after, McCaa was reassigned to a West Virginia parish with a “glowing recommendation” from Hogan.
In 2015, a state grand jury heard testimony from Gerald Long, who was the district attorney in charge of Kiniry and McGlynn in 1985 and is now a state judge. Long claimed he didn’t know about Kiniry and McGlynn’s meeting with Hogan 31 years ago and offered no justification for their actions but noted that they are “pretty strict Catholics.”
Kiniry, also now a state judge, told a different story. In a January 2016 interview with Pennsylvania investigators, Kiniry said he agreed to the meeting with Hogan, who died in 2005, at Long’s request. Kiniry said Hogan came to him with worries about a priest who had been “messing around” with kids, but an understanding was reached between the prosecutors and the bishop that McCaa would be moved elsewhere. Kiniry also claimed if a decision was made not to prosecute McCaa, it was ultimately Long’s call.
“Back then the Diocese moved the problem, that’s just how it was,” Kiniry said of the cover-up.
Most disconcerting of all, perhaps, was Kiniry’s admission that he was excited just to meet with the high-ranking Hogan. According to the grand jury report, he asserted that “being Catholic is engrained in you” and that Cambria is “an extremely Catholic county.”
“It is of course daunting to ponder going after men so powerful that adults kiss their rings, call them ‘your excellency’ and consider them God’s representatives on earth,” Clohessy said. “But almost nothing can deter wrongdoing like imprisonment. So if even a few more police chiefs and district attorneys had summoned the strength to treat complicit clerics like drug dealers or gang members, we believe thousands of kids would have been spared.”
Sadly, this was not the only state-assisted clergy abuse cover-up detailed in the Pennsylvania report. Consider the case of Father Leonard Inman, who worked at multiple Catholic institutions in Altoona and Somerset, Pa., between 1961 and 1989. Inman allegedly raped at least one child on church grounds and paid young men for sex during his years in the priesthood.
In 1986, a 16-year-old who said he had been one of Inman’s victims went to the Altoona Police. After hearing about the boy’s experiences and interviewing some of the young men whom Inman had allegedly paid for sex, police officials decided to launch a sting that would catch Inman in the act.
Inman was known at that time to troll the grounds and alleys of the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament in Altoona, a large structure that dominates the city’s downtown, at night looking for sex. A witness agreed to wear a wire in order to catch the reported pedophile priest. But no evidence was ever collected – Inman suddenly stopped frequenting the alleys in that area. He had been tipped off.
In 2015, a Pennsylvania grand jury heard testimony on the failure of that sting operation. Peter Starr, who was Altoona’s chief of police in 1986, said an attorney whose aunt was then a nun in the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese was responsible for Inman’s learning that he was being watched by authorities. That does not, however, explain why Inman was never investigated further. According to the grand jury report, a former Altoona police officer, Richard White, told the jury that he was asked by his bosses to drop the matter and suggested that this may have occurred because Starr met with none other than Bishop Hogan, the diocese’s fixer.
Starr, however, told the grand jury that his hands were tied by procedure. Starr noted that Inman was forced to go to a treatment facility in Baltimore in 1986-87 and claimed that “there’s a 180-day rule in Pennsylvania and we wanted to get [Inman] back here, and we never did see him again after that.”
The grand jury cast doubt on that claim.
“The Grand Jury was able to conclude that the Altoona Police chose not to pursue the Inman matter,” the document said. “There is no 180 day legal or procedural provision which would have prevented Inman’s prosecution. There is no creature of law or reality which would have prevented Inman from facing justice…other than the decision made by the Altoona Police to not pursue a predatory priest within their jurisdiction.”
(Inman passed away in 2001 without ever having faced justice.)
In other instances, the Catholic hierarchy in western Pennsylvania didn’t have to pressure or persuade local officials to do its bidding because the bishops had put those people in office. It seems this was due, at least in part, to the outsized influence of Bishop Hogan, who reigned from 1966-1986. One of Hogan’s former lieutenants, Monsignor Philip Saylor, told the grand jury in 2014 that “in Johnstown, I would basically pick the mayor; I would pick the chief of police. I would – you know, I became a very active citizen you might say and people trusted me.”
Saylor, who edited the diocesan newspaper, wielded a lot of power in the region. Starr, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported, attributed his own position to the cleric, telling the newspaper, “Politicians of Blair County were afraid of Monsignor Saylor.”
The report notes that Saylor openly boasted, “[I]n Johnstown I appointed the Chief of Police. I appointed the Fire Chief. The mayor would have them come to me and I would interview them and I would tell him which one to pick.”
Saylor also admitted that local officials who oversaw criminal investigations generally viewed abuse by priests as a matter to be handled internally by the diocese. When asked if state officials expected the church to clean up its own messes, Saylor replied: “That was their message, yeah. Now remember, that included the President Judge of Blair County (Thomas Peoples).”
As a result of the diocese’s unchecked power in western Pennsylvania, the grand jury concluded “that where priests were involved with misconduct the police and civil authorities would often defer to the Diocese.”
The grand jury report has harsh words for law enforcement officials in Altoona, a hardscrabble Rust Belt city of about 47,000 residents. The report slams the police for backing off the investigation of Inman.
“The Grand Jury finds that Inman was actively engaging in prostitution and oral intercourse with minors at Cathedral of Blessed Sacrament Altoona,” the report reads. “Altoona Police were aware of allegations and investigated the matter. The Diocese sought to protect the image of the institution rather than protect children or hold Inman accountable. No charges were ever filed in part due to the undue influence of the diocese over local officials.”
As for Hogan, it seems he sought to absolve himself of any responsibility to deal with problem priests beyond sending them for “treatment” at unlicensed Catholic facilities or reassigning them – even when a priest admitted to Hogan that he had sexually abused children.
“I saw no obligation to refer that to the police,” Hogan said during a 1988 deposition as part of a civil case brought by the alleged victims of a priest who worked under him.
Of course, the tolerance of horrific abuse by Catholic clergy was not limited to state agents in Pennsylvania – or even the East Coast. In Louisiana, the Rev. Dino Cinel amassed a large collection of commercial child pornography – as well as more than 160 hours of homemade tapes that showed he had been raping at least seven teenage boys in the 1980s.
Cinel’s actions came to light in 1988 and were detailed in a 1991 Vanity Fair story. The magazine reported that Cinel was discreetly ousted as a priest in 1989, but “the archdiocese held on to his collection of pornography for three months before turning it over to the district attorney’s office, prompting a barrage of later questions about whether the tapes had during that time been purged of sequences involving minors or parishioners.”
The possible destruction of evidence by the church wasn’t the only disconcerting matter. Cinel, described by Vanity Fair as “charming,” lived at St. Rita Church in New Orleans – the very same house of worship attended by Orleans Parish District Attorney Harry Connick Sr., father of the singer/ “American Idol” judge. Even though Connick was aware of the seriousness of Cinel’s alleged activities, he allowed the diocese to hold onto the tapes for all those months and then decided there wasn’t enough evidence to file charges against the priest.
“Although Connick had lobbied hard for Louisiana’s tough new child-pornography statute, he had also entertained Father Cinel in his home, and the sociable priest had even performed the rites at the wedding of Connick’s brother-in-law,” reported Vanity Fair. “In a television interview…the D.A. admitted that one reason he hadn’t prosecuted the case, despite a recommendation by his own investigators that he do so, was his unwillingness to embarrass ‘Holy Mother the Church.’”
When the public learned in 1991 about Cinel’s horrific actions and that Connick had taken a less-than-aggressive posture, there was understandable outrage. Connick remained Orleans Parish district attorney until 2003, but his office filed only “a single, unspecific charge of possession of pornography against Cinel – a move so halfhearted that it elicited still more criticism, since hundreds of charges could technically have been filed based on the commercial pornography collection alone,” Vanity Fair reported.
Although much of the known abuse that occurred in the United States at the hands of the Roman Catholic hierarchy is now decades old, that doesn’t mean the church has sought atonement. Even now, the bishops continue working with sympathetic legislators to protect them from being held accountable in criminal courts.
That’s not surprising. The scandal has already cost the Roman Catholic Church in the United States about $3 billion as of last fall, but that number could easily grow given that an estimated 100,000 children were victimized by priests over the years. Additionally, Bishop Accountability, a watchdog group that monitors this issue, said that as of September 2015 about 4,300 clergy had been accused of sexual assault and at least 300 have been convicted so far. Some dioceses have even had to declare bankruptcy.
While Pope Francis has publicly promised to remove “the scourge” of sex abuse from the ranks of the hierarchy and in 2015 created a special court at the Vatican to deal with priests accused of abuse, it’s telling that the church’s flock of lobbyists are hard at work blocking the extension of statutes of limitations on sex-abuse crimes.
“Catholic officials continue to be very effective at blocking laws that would enable more victims to expose more predator priests and complicit bishops in court,” said SNAP’s Clohessy. “It’s clear by their actions that bishops are dreadfully afraid of facing tough questions under oath about their deceit, recklessness and callousness in clergy sex-abuse cases. So they spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on high-priced lobbyists and public relations professionals to defeat bills that reform the archaic, predator-friendly statutes of limitations.”
Reuters reported that last year the bishops were fighting legislative attempts to lengthen the statutes of limitations on child sexual abuse in Washington, D.C., Maryland and Iowa. And in New York, the bishops have opposed a similar measure since at least 2006, the wire service said. But there is some good news: In Connecticut, Delaware and other states, lawmakers resisted church pressure and extended the statutes of limitations for these cases in recent years, bringing the total to 19 states that have extended these statutes for child sex-abuse cases.
In Pennsylvania, one lawmaker is all-too-familiar with clergy abuse – and that’s why he’s working to protect the legal rights of victims. State Rep. Mark Rozzi (D-Berks) said he was raped as a 13-year-old altar boy at a parish in Pennsylvania. He said three of his childhood friends who were also abused by clergy later committed suicide, so when he ran for office in 2012 he vowed to change Pennsylvania’s laws to help as many victims as possible. Rozzi’s story was recently featured in a New York Times piece authored by religion reporter Laurie Goodstein.
Last year, Rozzi filed legislation that would give abuse victims more time to file civil lawsuits; they could do it until they reached age 50. When Kane’s office released the grand jury report this year, Rozzi again spoke out about the need for statutes of limitations reform. He is now backing a bill that would create a two-year window in which past victims of abuse could file a civil lawsuit that otherwise would have been blocked by a statute of limitations.
“There is no statute of limitations on murder,” Kane said in March, “because it is a ‘life-altering event.’ And for anyone who says sexually abusing a child is not a life-altering event, I beg you to ask someone who’s been through it – because it is.”
The church hierarchy feels differently, and their lobbyists are working the halls in the state capitol in Harrisburg to defeat Rozzi’s bill.
“Statutes of limitations exist to ensure a just verdict can be reached,” Amy Hill, a spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, told Reuters last year. “Over time witnesses’ memories fade, evidence is lost or never found, and in many instances perpetrators or witnesses may be deceased.” (The bill cleared a House committee as this issue of Church & State went to press.)
If that attitude prevails, victims like Maureen Powers may never get the justice they seek. Powers, a 67-year-old resident of the small mountain town of Loretto north of Altoona, told The Times she was sexually abused for two years as a child by a local priest who knew her because she played the organ at the Catholic church to which she belonged. That priest abused her under the pretense that he was doing “research.”
After many years of difficulty trying to deal with what had happened to her, including telling other priests about her abuse and seeing their failure to act, Powers became one of more than 250 victims who contacted Kane’s office through a hotline set up specifically to gather claims of clergy abuse.
“I just felt like now, someone will believe me,” she told The Times.
Thanks to aggressive reporting by the media and even through movies like the Academy Award-winning film “Spotlight,” which highlighted clerical abuse cases in Boston, few people today dismiss the stories of the victims. What remains to be seen, however, is what will be done about it.
“No matter what religious or secular officials do or don’t do, we beg every single person who saw, suspected or suffered child sex crimes and cover-ups in Catholic churches or institutions to protect kids by calling police, get help by calling therapists, expose wrongdoers by calling journalists, get justice by calling attorneys and get comfort by calling support groups like ours,” Clohessy said. “This is how kids will be safer, adults will recover, criminals will be prosecuted, cover-ups will be deterred and the truth will surface.”