YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – The Diocese of Youngstown is responding to a scathing report from Maryland’s Attorney General that implicates a former Youngstown bishop in an alleged cover-up of the sexual abuse of more than 600 children.
The 463-page report, released Wednesday, highlights a multi-year grand jury investigation. The investigation found over 600 children were abused by 156 priests and others associated with the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the oldest Roman Catholic diocese in the country, but determined the actual number is “likely far higher.”
Many of the accused are now dead and no longer able to be prosecuted. The report focuses mainly on alleged abuse from the 1940s through 2002. The investigators said they hope exposing the issues will bring accountability in the absence of criminal justice.
The report names 146 abusers — including priests, deacons, sisters and other personnel — and redacted the names of an additional 10.
Named in the report is Father John Hammer, who once served as associate pastor of St. Columba Cathedral in Youngstown and at St. Aloysius in East Liverpool in 1985. The report details several assignments from 1979 to 2002, when he was suspended from the ministry. He later lost his clerical state in 2006.
The report cites a lawsuit brought in 2002 by three former altar boys from Youngstown against the Diocese of Youngstown, which accused church leaders of knowing that Hammer had committed wrongdoing but that they didn’t stop him and only moved him to another parish.
In October 1985, the Youngstown Diocese sent Hammer for sex addiction and pedophilia treatment at a facility in Maryland, according to the report. The report states that a letter to the late Bishop James Malone from Sister Mary Louise Lyons, president of St. Agnes Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland (where Hammer served as chaplain from 1986 to 1989), referenced Hammer’s issues but said she was worried that if the hope of him being an active priest was removed, she was concerned his treatment would not be effective.
He was removed from the hospital in 1989 due to his “history,” determining he should not be engaged in hospital ministry, but he continued to serve as pastor in Michigan until 2002.
A statement from Bishop David Bonnar, from the Diocese of Youngstown, issued Thursday afternoon responds to the allegations in the report:
“The Catholic Diocese of Youngstown grieves with all victims and survivors of clergy sexual abuse. We are committed to walking with them and being agents of healing, working with them to ensure that this evil scourge never happens again. The recent release of the Maryland Attorney General report opens the wounds of hurt and loss once again.
The reference to the late Bishop James Malone, the third Bishop of Youngstown, and how the John Hammer case was dealt with then no doubt triggers a wide range of emotions. As Bishop, I apologize for all hurt and harm to anyone who has been abused by a cleric. I want to assure the faithful but most especially victim survivors, that the Church responds to allegations of clergy sexual abuse immediately and much more effectively now than it did in generations past because of the implementation of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, independent review boards, background checks, safe environment coordinators, victims assistance coordinators, greater screening and scrutiny of priesthood candidates, clergy misconduct policies, and ongoing education and formation for everyone.
Additionally, Pope Francis has revised Church law to ensure that nobody can be in ministry who is guilty of sexual abuse. Furthermore, bishops who are negligent in the handling of abuse cases will be held responsible. The Church continues her pursuit to end this evil and to help bring about healing for victim survivors.”Most Rev. David J. Bonnar, bishop of Youngstown
The Diocese of Youngstown encouraged anyone who has experienced misconduct by a clergy member or church employee to contact public authorities or the diocese directly through Dominic Colucy, victims assistance coordinator at 330-744-8451, ext. 293, or via the confidential diocesan response line: 330-718-1388. Mr. Colucy’s email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Julia Mueller, of The Hill, contributed to this report.