Diocese to hold prayer service in State College for sex abuse victims

Bishop Mark Bartchak, who investigated a priest who was subsequently laicized.
Bishop Mark Bartchak, who investigated a priest who was subsequently laicized. Centre Daily Times, file

Bishop Mark Bartchak is planning to hold prayer services for sexual abuse victims in the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese of the Roman Catholic Church.

The services come more than two months after a Pennsylvania grand jury alleged that two former bishops covered up the sexual abuse of hundreds of children by dozens of clergy.

Bartchak will preside at three prayer services for healing, according to a release.

“All victims of abuse and their families, as well as the faithful of Altoona-Johnstown, are invited to join the bishop in prayer for those who have been harmed,” the release said.

The first two will be held in Johnstown and Altoona with the third at 7 p.m. Thursday at Our Lady of Victory in State College, which is located at 820 Westerly Parkway.

“I invite all of the faithful, especially those who have been harmed by someone in the church, to join me at these prayer services,” Bartchak said in the release. “I hope the time spent in community with others before the Blessed Sacrament will be a source of comfort, healing, and peace for all those affected by abuse.”

At least one claim of abuse was made about a former priest at OLV. Father Robert Kelly was alleged to have abused a boy in the mid-’70s.

According to grand jury documents, “Kelly would take the boy to the drive-in movies, drives to the mountains, and spend time with the boy.” He would also kiss him and touch him and reach into his pants. He would give him beer. He tried to sleep with him. In 1978, another child, then 14, claimed he rebuffed those same advances.

In 2001, Kelly was sent back to Centre County after decades in other states and countries. He was placed at Sts Peter and Paul in Philipsburg and was there until February 2015 when Bartchak suspended him.

The release also urged anyone with information about suspected abuse to call the attorney general’s hotline at 888-538-8541. Additional support is available through Jean Johnstone at the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown Children and Youth Protection Advocacy Office at 944-9388.

Shawn Annarelli: 814-235-3928, @Shawn_Annarelli