The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

January 28, 2013

State AG takes over priest molestation case

Kathy Mellott
kmellott@tribdem.com

JOHNSTOWN — The criminal investigation into allegations that a priest with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Altoona-Johns­town molested boys while at churches in Cambria County has been turned over to the state Attorney General’s Office.

Cambria County District Attorney Kelly Callihan said her office requested that the state take over the investigation of the Rev. George Koharchik.

“We had a conflict of interest in the DA’s office,” she said. “We referred it to the AG’s office, and they’ve accepted it.”

While Callihan did not provide specifics, she said that a member of the district attorney’s staff had attended one of the Cambria County churches where Koharchik served for a number of years.

Koharchik, 63, was placed on leave from active ministry in the priesthood last summer by Bishop Mark Bartchak following allegations that Koharchik had sexually molested at least four boys, some as long as three decades ago.

A representative of the state attorney general’s office did not respond to a request for comment Monday.

Born in Windber and raised in Johns­town, Koharchik graduated from Bishop McCort High School and received a master of divinity degree from St. Francis Seminary in Loretto in the mid-1970s.

He then spent about a decade at St. Clement church in Upper Yoder Township, followed by two years at St. Joseph Parish in Portage and eight years at St. Casimir in Johnstown before going back to Portage.

Bartchak announced in August

that Koharchik was being placed on leave and would have no contact

with children after two men contacted the diocese and made allegations of sexual abuse.

Two more men came forward after the allegations about Koharchik were made public.

Two of the men alleged they were molested as boys at unnamed parishes in Cambria County, according to diocesan information. While investigators are not saying where the other incidents allegedly occurred, it is believed at least one was in a county other than Cambria.

As required by law, the diocese contacted civil authorities after learning of the alleged abuse, spokesman Tony DeGol said at the time Koharchik was placed on leave.

DeGol said in an email Monday that Koharchik resides in a nonministerial setting, remains suspended from functioning as a priest and is prohibited from having contact with children.

“The diocese has not received any information from civil authorities since accusations concerning Father Kohar­chik were reported to the Cambria County District Attorney,” DeGol said in the email.

Koharchik is among more than two dozen priests associated with the Altoona-Johnstown diocese who have been publicly accused of sex abuse crimes in the past several years, according to an inventory on the website bishop-accountability.org, which documents abuse allegations in the Roman Catholic Church.

The most recent person accused was Brother Stephen Baker, a Franciscan friar who was an instructor and involved in the athletic program at Bishop McCort from the early 1990s until the early 2000s.

Baker, 62, committed suicide Saturday at St. Bernardine Monastery outside Hollidaysburg, where he was living.

The Blair Township Police Department said Baker had been accused of molesting more than 50 male students at the high school as of Friday.

It was announced earlier this month that a settlement was reached with 11 men who alleged that Baker had abused them when they attended John F. Kennedy High School in Warren, Ohio. Baker was at the Ohio school prior to moving to this area.

While not a priest in the Altoona-Johnstown diocese, Baker worked for the diocese while at Bishop McCort.

In 2008 the high school moved out from under the umbrella of the diocese and is now independent, according to a statement released last week.

Koharchik left Portage around 2000 and was reassigned to a parish at the eastern end of the diocese, St. Mary in Shade Gap. During his tenure there, he also was chaplain at State Correctional Institution-Huntingdon, according to the accountability project’s website.

 

 

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