It has been nearly one year since a grand jury investigation uncovered hundreds of sexual abuse cases, within the Altoona-Johnstown Catholic Diocese and on March 1, there will be a news conference outside of the diocese offices in Altoona.
One victim said progress has not been made.
“It was a normal lifestyle except for one very [un]normal thing,” Shaun Dougherty, a church abuse victim, said.
Dougherty said at 10-years old, he was sexually abused by a catholic priest at St. Clement’s Church in Johnstown. He said it went on for three years, but he never told anyone.
At 21, he joined the U.S. Navy and took an oath for the military.
“That oath spoke to me and ever since then, I felt a burning desire to speak out, to tell what happened,” Dougherty said, but when it came to the abuse that happened to him, no one took him seriously until 2016, when the report uncovered hundreds of cases from the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese over a 40 year span, and Dougherty was one of those cases.
“I started crying immediately,” Dougherty said. “I remember I was at my brother’s house in New York… crocodile tears, balling my eyes out, I was so relieved.”
The statute of limitations didn’t allow him to take his abuser to court.
Currently, State Representative Mark Rozzi is pushing for a bill to eliminate time limits for victims including those in the past to sue. However, in a separate bill, Senator Joe Scarnati is proposing that only future abuse victims get a bigger time frame, but Dougherty said justice needs to be served for everyone, regardless of when abuse occurs. He said he’s been trying to speak with the senator, hoping he’ll empathize after hearing his story.
“I called him one day I was standing outside of his office at the end of the last legislative session, and the only thing he had to say to me about it was he was praying for me.”
Dougherty said he also reached out to former President Barrack Obama, who was quick with a response.
Meanwhile, he continues to be a member of SNAP – a support group for victims of sexual abuse. Their first meeting for the Altoona-Johnstown region will be Feb. 28.
“We’re much more organized, we’re a much bigger group, we’re a much stronger group and we’re going to get our rights this year,” he said.
The SNAP meeting on Tuesday will be in Ebensburg, but the exact location is not available in order to protect victims who want to remain anonymous.
If you’d like to attend the meeting, you’re asked to call Judy Jones at 314-974-5003.