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Altoona-Johnstown diocese confirms it received federal grand jury subpoenas

Bishop Mark Bartchak, right, of the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese, speaks at a news conference with Acting U.S. Attorney Soo Song in 2017 to announce new measures to protect the children of the diocese from future sexual abuse and to provide better help for victims, including new reporting requirements and the creation of an independent oversight board.
Bishop Mark Bartchak, right, of the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese, speaks at a news conference with Acting U.S. Attorney Soo Song in 2017 to announce new measures to protect the children of the diocese from future sexual abuse and to provide better help for victims, including new reporting requirements and the creation of an independent oversight board. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via AP, file

The Altoona-Johnstown diocese, based in Hollidaysburg, confirmed Tuesday that it did receive federal grand jury subpoenas and is cooperating with the investigation.

The diocese is not making any further comments on the investigation at this time, according to a spokesperson.

A federal investigation into child sex abuse by Roman Catholic priests in Pennsylvania was made public Thursday by an Associated Press report.

According to the report, federal investigators are using subpoenas to demand secret files and testimony from high-ranking church leaders. Victim advocates say this probe is the first of its kind ever to be launched by the United States Justice Department.

Altoona-Johnstown is the last of the state’s eight dioceses to confirm that they’ve received grand jury subpoenas from the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

The investigation stems from the state grand jury report read by Attorney General Josh Shapiro over the summer that claimed 301 “predator priests” had molested more than 1,000 children over seven decades and that the church covered up for the offenders.

“It’s groundbreaking if we’re going to see one of the U.S. attorneys pursuing the Catholic cases,” Marci Hamilton, a church-state expert at the University of Pennsylvania and chief executive of Child USA, told the AP. “The federal government has so far been utterly silent on the Catholic cases.”

The Altoona-Johnstown diocese is presided over by Bishop Mark Bartchak and includes Our Lady of Victory, Good Shepherd and Penn State Catholic Campus Ministry in Centre County, according to its website.

The Altoona-Jonhstown diocese wasn’t mentioned in the most recent grand jury report, but was the subject of a 2016 statewide investigating grand jury report that alleged a pattern of sexual abuse and activity, as well as coverup, by more than 50 priests and other religious leaders. Among those priests were nine who had been attached to Centre County parishes or positions, as previously reported by the Centre Daily Times.

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