- Associated Press - Thursday, September 21, 2017

PITTSBURGH (AP) - A Roman Catholic diocese has appointed a five-member board to oversee its handling of child sex abuse allegations against clergy as part of an agreement with the federal prosecutor who oversees western Pennsylvania.

Acting U.S. Attorney Soo Song announced the agreement in March with Altoona-Johnstown Bishop Mark Bartchak after a state grand jury alleged a decadeslong abuse coverup. Song’s predecessor had threatened to sue the eight-county central Pennsylvania diocese under a federal racketeering statute if reforms weren’t enacted.

Song and Bartchak on Thursday announced the names of the board members.

The board will be chaired by James W. Brown, former chief of staff to Democratic Sen. Bob Casey and his father, Democratic former Gov. Bob Casey. The other members are Walter “Pete” Carson, a former state police investigator; Eileen Dombo, a professor and assistant dean at The Catholic University of America; Mary Herwig, an abuse victim turned advocate; and J. Alan Johnson, a former U.S. attorney who is perhaps best known for his prosecution of cocaine trafficking in Major League Baseball in an investigation that centered on the Pittsburgh Pirates clubhouse in the 1980s.

The reform agreement also required the church to hire an outside expert to develop a new sex abuse prevention program for its priests, which it already has done.

Song has said Bartchak and the diocese worked with her office on the reforms. The collaboration is similar to those undertaken in other U.S. dioceses, though that was usually in partnership with state prosecutors.

A year ago, Pennsylvania’s attorney general issued a scathing grand jury report detailing abuse by more than 50 priests and other clergy against hundreds of children going back decades while the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese was under different leadership. The grand jury did not accuse Bartchak of wrongdoing but found “the purge of predators is taking too long.”

The diocese seated in Altoona, about 90 miles (145 kilometers) east of Pittsburgh, is home to nearly 100,000 Catholics.

Under the Song-Bartchak agreement, the diocese must report credible abuse allegations to law enforcement within 12 hours, immediately take accused priests out of positions where they have contact with minors and place them on leave within 24 hours.

The diocese is also publishing the names, photos and assignments of diocesan priests who are subject to credible allegations, so the public knows who they are.

The new independent oversight panel will audit diocesan compliance with the reforms for 10 years and issue annual reports.

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