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“This Church Is a Criminal Enterprise”: Former Priest & Survivor Speak Out on PA Catholic Sex Abuse

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A shocking new Pennsylvania grand jury report has revealed that more than 300 Catholic priests sexually abused 1,000 children, and possibly thousands more, over a span of seven decades. The church leadership covered up the abuse, lying to communities, transferring predator priests rather than firing them, and locking abuse complaints away in what the church called a “secret archive.” For more, we speak with Shaun Dougherty, a survivor of sexual abuse by a Pennsylvania priest. His story was included in Tuesday’s grand jury report. He was molested by a priest from the Altoona-Johnstown diocese in Pennsylvania for three years, starting when he was 10 years old. George Koharchick, the priest responsible, has been defrocked. Even though the FBI determined he was a child predator, Koharchick cannot be tried as such because of an expired statute of limitations. We also speak with Bob Hoatson, a former Catholic priest and the co-founder and president of Road to Recovery, which assists victims of sexual abuse.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: We’re continuing to look at the shocking new Pennsylvania grand jury report that has revealed how more than 300 Catholic priests sexually abused a thousand children, and possibly thousands more, over seven decades, and that the church leadership covered up the abuse. We’re joined now by two guests.

AMY GOODMAN: Shaun Dougherty is with us. He was molested by a priest from Altoona-Johnstown diocese in Pennsylvania for three years, starting when he was 10 years old. The priest responsible, George Koharchick, has been defrocked. Even though the FBI determined he was a child predator, the priest cannot be tried as such because of expired statute of limitations. Shaun Dougherty’s story was one of many included in the grand jury report released on Tuesday.

Bob Hoatson is also with us, a former Catholic priest, co-founder and president of Road to Recovery, which assists victims of sexual abuse.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Shaun, we saw you in the clip released by the Pennsylvania attorney general. Talk about what happened to you, how old you were and when you blew the whistle or told anyone.

SHAUN DOUGHERTY: Beginning in fifth grade, my priest, my religion teacher, my pee-wee basketball coach, was Father George Koharchick, a well-loved young priest in our community who had been grooming me for years, of getting used to him handling me physically, touching me, having him close to me. And in the fifth grade, that touching progressed to sexual assault.

George Koharchick, to this day, I believe, he must have—my belief is that he has a personal infatuation with male genitalia. I believe—from the patterns in the things that he did throughout the three years, I believe he was testing us to see—he wanted to know the exact day that we were going to be sexually mature, in my opinion. And that progressed to a one-time digital penetration in a shower when I was 13. I did not like that experience at all. And I gave him a look in the shower. And surprisingly, it ended for me that day in the shower. Unfortunately, for some of my friends, it continued for them.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Do you know how many people were involved, how many children?

SHAUN DOUGHERTY: He admitted to the Altoona-Johnstown grand jury to being close to 12 boys. I imagine it’s a much bigger number than that.

AMY GOODMAN: And when did he admit this?

SHAUN DOUGHERTY: The report was released in March of 2016 by then-Attorney General Kathleen Kane of Pennsylvania. And on pages 66 and 67 of that, my name is a redacted name. And at some point over the course of that grand jury investigation lead-up to that rollout, he admitted to that. And it’s on the—it’s in the report.

AMY GOODMAN: What did the church know of what he was doing? He not only groomed you.

SHAUN DOUGHERTY: Here’s the fun part.

AMY GOODMAN: He groomed your parents, as well, playing—going bowling with them?

SHAUN DOUGHERTY: Not just mine. Not just my parents, he groomed the entire community. Since becoming public, after the report came out, I—reading that, I decided I can’t stay silent. Well, what drew me out was a newspaper article with him on the front page. Two people had gone to the bishop of Altoona-Johnstown—


SHAUN DOUGHERTY: —diocese, in 2012, to call him out.

AMY GOODMAN: Six years ago.

SHAUN DOUGHERTY: Those two same brothers went to the then-monsignor in 1983 about Father Koharchick, in my eighth grade year, reported it—

AMY GOODMAN: Decades ago.

SHAUN DOUGHERTY: —confirmed it. Monsignor went then to Bishop Hogan, covered it up. And this is firsthand experience by one of the brothers. I’m very—I grew up with these guys. And now I know—

AMY GOODMAN: Bishop Hogan, the bishop of?

SHAUN DOUGHERTY: Bishop Hogan, Altoona-Johnstown, years ago, made an arrangement, a financial: We need to protect the church, we need to protect the reputation, we need to protect your kids, we need to keep it quiet. And they agreed to transfer him. It took them six months. They didn’t tell anybody. They permitted—I grew up a block from the school. It was in my eighth-grade year. They didn’t tell anybody. They allowed me and three of my friends in the rectory, in his private space, to pack his belongings. The entire top shelf of his book was all medical journals on male genitalia. Right? We got in the car, drove to Portage, Pennsylvania, to the new school and to the new rectory that he was assigned to, and we spent the night in the rectory. And he had just been transferred for sexually abusing two boys.

AMY GOODMAN: What happens when a priest is caught, what, embezzling?

SHAUN DOUGHERTY:They’re in jail, immediately. You can’t steal from the church. The church steals from you. It’s not a two-way street. That is not a two-way street with the church. Money flows one direction. And if you take it from them—

AMY GOODMAN: Yet when a priest steals the life of a child, the dignity of a child, the church protects?

SHAUN DOUGHERTY: Part of me feels that there is a—I mean, I can’t say. Bob could probably speak more to this when he comes on, is that I have to say that there has to be a part of the church that feels that that is their benevolent right of some kind. I really—I really just—it’s starting to seem like there is a percentage of the church that feels like it is their divine right to do this. It is so systemically huge.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: You mentioned earlier—and forgive me for asking—what exactly digital penetration is?

SHAUN DOUGHERTY: He stuck his finger in my anus in the shower when I was 13 years old. I believe he was testing to see if I would go further.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Could you talk about also the issue of the statute of limitations and what that means for survivors like yourself?

SHAUN DOUGHERTY: When I was a child and I was faced with this, my statutes of limitation only permitted me to talk and press charges until I was 15 years old. I had two years past the end of the last assault. So I was not legally old enough to drive a car in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania, yet I had to come forward and tell my parents and the community that the guy that they bowl with every Thursday night is raping the kids.

AMY GOODMAN: Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro emphasized how the Catholic Church delayed taking action on reports of priests engaged in child sexual abuse in order to prevent criminal charges from being filed.

ATTORNEY GENERAL JOSH SHAPIRO: The pattern was abuse, deny and cover up. The effect not only victimized children, it served a legal purpose that church officials manipulated for their advantage. The longer they covered it up, the less chance law enforcement could prosecute these predators, because the statute of limitations would run. As a direct consequence of the systematic cover-up by senior church officials, almost every instance of child sexual abuse we found is too old to be prosecuted.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro. I want to bring a former priest into this conversation. That’s right. Bob Hoatson, former Catholic priest, president of Road to Recovery, talk about being in the church, when you were a priest, and blowing the whistle.

ROBERT HOATSON: Well, I was 40 years an insider in this church. I was 23 years in the religious life and 14 as a priest. So I saw it from the inside. I was sexually abused by three different men in the religious life. And I knew what was going on on the inside. And it was just abject corruption from the get-go. This church is a criminal enterprise, that actually covers up the massive sexual abuse of children for centuries.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, Bob, could you explain—respond to what Shaun said earlier? I mean, you were sexually abused by three different men. They were all priests, is that correct?

ROBERT HOATSON: They were religious brothers, actually.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And what does that mean?

ROBERT HOATSON: A religious brother is someone who lives in community but does not have the ability to say mass, etc. They do more social kinds of works, like education, hospital work, etc.

AMY GOODMAN: And what happened to you?

ROBERT HOATSON: Well, the day I stepped into the religious life at the age of 18, after having graduated from high school as the top senior of my class, this person said to me, this superior said to me, “Bob, you’re a cold person. I’m going to have to warm you up.” He continued that mantra on for the entire year, until the second superior I had, in the novitiate, which is the most important year of formation because that’s where you learn the spiritual life, well, that superior sexually abused me. And then when I reported it to another superior, he told me that, yes, I was preyed upon, but that night he crept into bed and sexually assaulted me in the same way that I had described to him several hours previously.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: So do you agree with what Shaun suggested, that part of the church is their belief that they have some kind of benevolent right?

ROBERT HOATSON: Oh, absolutely. What this is is a massive abuse of power. And then it’s exhibited in the sexual abuse of not just children, but teenagers and vulnerable adults, as well. And it’s also part of the reason why financial crimes are committed within the church. So, every aspect of dysfunction is exhibited because of the abuse of power.

AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about when you came forward in a big way. It wasn’t actually when you were being sexually abused, though you were repeatedly.

ROBERT HOATSON: Yes. In 2003, I testified before the New York state Legislature, and I was a priest at the time. I was directing two schools in the inner city of Newark. And I called for the resignation of any bishop in the United States who has covered up child sexual abuse. Three days later, I was called into the chancery of the Newark archdiocese and fired by my bishop for speaking out.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And they said explicitly to you that you’re being fired because you spoke out?

ROBERT HOATSON: Oh, yes, I was told that my language was too volatile at the hearing in Albany, and the bishop asked me to tone down my language. And then I was—they slid a letter across the table at me, and it said that “You’re fired, effective immediately.” Now, they didn’t take away my priestly faculties then, but in 2005, when I turned around and sued him for doing all of these retaliatory things, then they put me on complete suspension, and I wasn’t able to function as a priest at all.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, you blew the whistle at a Catholic high school. Explain.


AMY GOODMAN: This wasn’t when you were being abused.


AMY GOODMAN: But you felt that the—what? Principal?

ROBERT HOATSON: Well, having been abused as a child and also as a teenager, my antenna, you know, has been up for a very long time. So, in 1981, when I was stationed at a high school in Boston, Catholic Memorial High School, the chaplain of the school used to go into the athletic locker room with a camera. He would go into the shower room. So, I saw this. I went immediately to the headmaster, and I said, “This has to stop. He has to be out of here.”

Well, he happened to be the third-highest-ranking member of the archdiocese of Boston at the time. He was the vice chancellor. His name was Fred Ryan. And Monsignor Fred Ryan was sexually abusing, I thought, two kids in particular. I went to the headmaster. I told him. The headmaster said, “Oh, no, he’s a wonderful priest. We’re not going to do anything about this.” Twenty years later, those two young men went public with their abuse. And that’s really what started Road to Recovery, because I went back to Boston every week from then on to help them in their recovery. And I apologized profusely to them for not screaming more loudly in 1981.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Shaun, could you elaborate on the point that Bob made? I mean, on the one hand, the scale of this grand jury report—I mean, a thousand survivors of sexual abuse, over 300 priests implicated—and yet, obviously, there has been a massive cover-up. Could you say who you think—how many people have been responsible for that cover-up, how many people are complicit, and what you think should happen?

SHAUN DOUGHERTY: There’s really no current way to tell how many people are involved in the cover-up. I mean, the Roman Catholic Church is a massive organization that has many hands and fingers that are willing to help. It’s not hard—it hasn’t been hard for them to find an enabling ear to bend. So, they are having a lot of help.

What should happen as a result of this? These are crimes. Massive amounts of crimes have been committed. And crime deserves a punishment. You know, use a little of the Catholic tough love with the Catholic Church. You know, the legislative end of this, in Pennsylvania, I have been to the Capitol regularly for the last two-and-a-half years, since becoming public, to pass very commonsense legislation that Representative Mark Rozzi of Berks County, also a rape victim of the church—he was raped in a shower at 13, which is why he’s a representative, and he’s pushing for this legislation. The Republican-controlled Senate in Pennsylvania, that is dominated by lobbyists from the Insurance Federation, from the Catholic Conference, will not let it go.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: What is the Insurance Federation?

SHAUN DOUGHERTY: The insurance agents don’t want this law to go through, either, because they’re the ones that are going to be set footing the bill. The church only does it; they don’t pay for it.

AMY GOODMAN: And explain what the Catholic Conference is.

SHAUN DOUGHERTY: You know, the Catholic Conference is a conference of bishops in the country that get together. Even though each individual diocese is run individually by each individual bishop—they only have that control of their diocese—they do meet. And on certain aspects of the religion and activities, I believe they come to a common consensus. They argue with—I think it’s just like our political arena. And when they come to a consensus, that’s it.

AMY GOODMAN: Is there something particular about Pennsylvania? Are we going to see this—this is a grand jury report just out of Pennsylvania. It’s 300 priests, they’re saying. They say a thousand young people, children, girls and boys, but probably thousands and thousands more, the attorney general found.

SHAUN DOUGHERTY: I’ve been told, and it’s being reported, that they have over a hundred calls in 12 hours to the hotline since it’s been released. This is an open investigation. It is continuing. I believe those numbers are very conservative.

AMY GOODMAN: And yet, where is Pope Francis on all of this? Pressure is growing. He hasn’t responded. The church sex scandals continue to grow across the globe. I’m talking about sex abuse scandals. Earlier this week, former Australian Archbishop Philip Edward Wilson was sentenced to 12 months of house arrest. He’s the most senior Catholic official in the world to be found guilty of concealing the sexual abuse of children. That was Australia. In late July, the former archbishop of Washington, D.C., Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, became the highest-ranking Catholic leader in the United States to resign, after he was accused of abusing a number of boys as young as 11 years old. Meanwhile, Tuesday, authorities in Chile raided the headquarters of the Catholic Church’s Episcopal Conference as part of a widespread investigation into sex abuse. Well, former Father Bob Hoaton [sic], what is your response? Hoatson.

ROBERT HOATSON: Well, just anecdotally, in 1994, when I was considering leaving the Irish Christian Brothers and going to be a priest, I asked the vocation director in the Newark archdiocese, “Has Cardinal—has Archbishop McCarrick stopped sleeping with the seminarians?” It was known by everyone. And he assured me that he had and that the papal nuncio and that another bishop had intervened and stopped it.

But what we’re talking about here is—it’s worldwide. It’s not going to stop, unless the outside agencies, like the federal governments—two years ago, 32 organizations, led by Road to Recovery and Catholic Whistleblowers, approached the Obama administration and pleaded for a national commission to investigate the Catholic Church’s clergy sexual abuse problem. We didn’t get anywhere, but we’re still doing, you know, these kind of things. Australia, the Royal Commission was an absolute gem. It’s going to be a seminal work in the history of child protection. We need to do the same thing in the United States.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And what do you expect? Do you think that the Vatican will respond, Shaun?

SHAUN DOUGHERTY: I think eventually they’re going to have to respond in that, and I think the politicians are going to have to respond. Let’s keep in mind, this is a very damning report that was exposed. They were successful at redacting 30 names. Every diocese in Pennsylvania—

AMY GOODMAN: Of the priests.

SHAUN DOUGHERTY: Of the priests. Every diocese in Pennsylvania is exposed, right? So, if you’re a Pennsylvanian, listen to this, and you have young daughters or young boys: I can’t tell you where in Pennsylvania those 30 people are right now. The only way we can do that is if we pass Mark Rozzi’s legislation, because those 30 are going to argue before the Supreme Court. The Catholic Church and those 30 are going to be hidden, unless the Supreme Court releases those names. So there’s no telling where these 30 guys are operating in Pennsylvania.

AMY GOODMAN: You compare the treatment of these rapists and the cover-up of them to—oh, let’s—the National Catholic Reporter 2010: “A Catholic nun, who was a member of a Phoenix Catholic hospital’s ethics committee, was excommunicated and reassigned last week for her role in allowing an abortion to take place [in a] hospital,” the surgery considered necessary to save the life of a critically ill patient. You compare to that, and you think about the other stories that were told. For example—this was in the Pennsylvania attorney general’s report—ex-priest Edward Ganster left the priesthood in 1990, moved to Orlando, Florida, area and went on to work at Disney World before he died in 2014. And how is that connected to the Catholic Church? He got a letter of recommendation from the Catholic Church. Father Hoatson?

ROBERT HOATSON: Right, yeah, this is systemic. When Governor Frank Keating resigned as the chair of the first National Review Board, that was set up after the Dallas Charter was passed in 2002, he resigned and said, “This is exactly what the Mafia is like. It’s dealing with the Mafia.” And that’s what we’re dealing with. And we have to make sure that Catholics now take back their church and insist that these people are eliminated, fired. And that’s what the pope has to do. He has to have mass firings of bishops, and the leadership has to change. And that, of course, leads then to the structural changes that need to be made, things like mandatory celibacy, which is absurd. And in 2018, the fact that we still have some of these traditions in place—

AMY GOODMAN: And what about nuns as priests?

ROBERT HOATSON: Of course. Women have to have full participation in the church. If women were in leadership positions, this never would have happened.

AMY GOODMAN: For parents—

SHAUN DOUGHERTY: I’d like to go one step further: not only leadership positions, power, position of power. If a woman that is celibate, on level heading as a priest—a nun is not on level heading as a priest in the eyes of the church. But in the eyes of the church, if a nun feels—I’m not saying on the outside—within herself, feels that she is on equal footing with this priest, there’s nothing to prevent her from saying “Hey, what’s going on here? This is no more”—like they did to us. The nuns are excellent at it, let me tell you. I grew up with nuns, and they’re good at policing. But they only have so much power. You know, you can’t police the priests if you have less power.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we want to thank you both for being with us, for sharing your stories, for responding to this report. And, of course, we’ll continue to cover this story. This is one state, Pennsylvania. Do you know of other states that are doing this kind of investigation?

SHAUN DOUGHERTY: Right here. We’re sitting in one of the worst.


SHAUN DOUGHERTY: Absolutely. And we have the most archaic laws here. We’re equal to Mississippi and Alabama, as far as our statutes of limitation in New York go. Plus, I will tell you, we have Times Square, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Niagara Falls. These guys work just like single guys. They bring them across state lines. “Let’s go to New York. I’ll take you to St. Patrick’s. I’ll take you to a Broadway show. We’ll go to Niagara Falls. And you’ll be sexually abused, but it’ll be OK. You’ll have a great time. We’ll get you a 'I love New York' hat, and we’ll take you home to your family.”

ROBERT HOATSON: We need 49 more grand jury investigations, is what we need.

AMY GOODMAN: In all of the states. Shaun Dougherty, survivor of sexual abuse by a Pennsylvania priest, and former Catholic priest Bob Hoatson, president of Road to Recovery.

This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. When we come back, meet, well, who could be the first Muslim woman member of Congress. We’re going to Detroit to speak with Rashida Tlaib. Stay with us.

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