‘Weaponizing’ Catholic faith and investigating victims
Juliann Bortz said the Catholic Church hired an investigator to follow her after she came forward to report her own abuse.
John Buffone, email@example.com
ALLENTOWN, Pa. — After reading the Pennsylvania grand jury’s report on child sex abuse in the Catholic Church, Juliann Bortz and her family are being overly cautious, maybe even paranoid.
But she learned a lesson from the report that identifies more than 300 priests who preyed on more than 1,000 children in six Roman Catholic dioceses across the state: Victims not only weren’t believed, their credibility also might have been attacked.
Her story was highlighted early in the 1,400-page report released Aug. 14 as an example of institutional failure.
“It’s crazy,” Bortz said in an interview this past week. “It’s absolutely crazy.”
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And it was part of the church’s playbook to cover up decades of crimes against children. Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro called it part of the weaponizing of the Catholic faith that permitted priests to prey upon children for decades with few consequences.
The Rev. Francis “Frank” Fromholzer, now 87, groped and with his finger penetrated Bortz and her best friend starting in 1964 when they were freshmen at Allentown Central Catholic High School, according to the grand jury testimony of Bortz and her friend, who asked to remain anonymous to the grand jury although she publicly identified herself when she filed suit against the five-county Allentown Diocese in 2004.
“It was confusing because you were always told you were going to hell if you let anybody touch you, but then you’ve got a father doing it,” Bortz testified to the grand jury.
Her friend reported the abuse to the school’s principal at the time and was expelled from the school she loved. Bortz’s abuse ended in 10th grade when she was no longer in the same building as the priest who molested her.
But more than 50 years later she learned that after her 2002 and 2004 attempts to report Fromholzer’s abuse, she was the one who had been investigated.
“In contrast to the efforts to investigate and discredit the victims of child sexual abuse who dared to report their abuse … the internal documentation regarding the diocesan investigation of Fromholzer is starkly different,” the grand jury report said. “The diocese asked Fromholzer if he did it. Fromholzer said no. Fromholzer then suggested it might be a good time for him to retire.”
Public records show that Fromholzer now lives in a Philadelphia suburb about 50 miles south of Allentown.
In 2002, the Allentown Diocese’s lawyer, Thomas Traud, reported to diocese officials that he had received information from an informant who accused Bortz of being sexually active in high school and possibly being a girl who had an affair with a coach at the high school.
The informant told Traud that Bortz had once danced as a go-go dancer, implying that she was a stripper. Instead, she had done go-go dancing for a local radio station, wearing shorts and knee-high go-go boots, Bortz told the York (Pa.) Daily Record.
“Having received a report that one of their priests had violated children, the diocese and its attorney immediately began to exchange information meant to discredit the victim with unrelated and irrelevant attacks on her and her family. Moreover, the fact that a Central Catholic coach may have been sexually abusing students was used as evidence against the victim,” the grand jury report said. “In reality, it is the report of yet another crime not reported to police.”
She already had been cut off in trying to report Fromholzer’s abuse twice previously: Nearly 20 years after it had ended, she summoned the courage to tell a priest who was a family friend about the episodes.
“No, I don’t want to hear it,” Father Anthony Wassel, who later was promoted to monsignor and died earlier this year, told her. “You go to confession and you pray for him.”
Later in the 1980s, she tried to tell Monsignor John Murphy, who continues to serve as a pastor in the diocese.
“Don’t say the name,” he told her.
Neither Wassel nor Murphy apparently told their diocese about Bortz’s attempts to alert them to her molestation. The grand jury received no information of those accounts when it subpoenaed thousands of pages of diocese records.
Only after the 2002 Boston Globe investigation into child sexual abuse in the Boston Archdiocese did Bortz again try to report Fromholzer’s abuse in Allentown. At one point, she was told to expect to hear from a private investigator.
“Nothing ever came of it,” she said. “I thought they were hiring the private investigator to investigate the priest. I had no idea.”
She also went to law enforcement to report what happened to her.
The police looked into it and referred the case to the Lehigh County district attorney. The district attorney cited the expiration of the state’s statute of limitations and declined to prosecute.
Then in 2004, Bortz decided to pursue a civil suit against the church, a lawsuit later dismissed because the statute of limitations had expired. Traud was back in the picture, telling diocese officials that Bortz’s daughter had been a witness in a murder case and implying that “maybe this is a woman who repeatedly wants her 15 minutes of fame.”
Bortz’s daughter had witnessed a murder when she was 16, and Bortz became involved to protect her while the case was going through the legal system, she said this past week.
In another letter, “Traud informed the diocese that Julianne’s husband was associated with the Christian Motorcyclists Association, which Traud labeled the husband’s brainchild,” the grand jury report said.
Bortz assumes that was intended to imply that her husband was a member of an outlaw biker gang.
“It’s ridiculous,” she said. “I don’t know what they were getting at with that.”
She did not know that the church had looked into her background, or her family’s background, until the grand jury report came out. In 2002, she also became active in the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests and had heard from other victims that the church dug into their backgrounds, but she had no idea that it also had dug into hers.
“It really pissed me off,” Bortz said. “They brought my kids into it. That’s just wrong.”
The church did not ask its lawyer to dig up information about Bortz, diocese spokesman Matt Kerr said. Traud’s communications were unsolicited.
“It ended there. Nothing was ever done with the information” from him, Kerr said.
Fromholzer was allowed to retire from St. Paul’s Church in Allentown in October 2002, a month after Bortz first went to diocese officials. He never was disciplined and she never had any church-financed counseling nor other compensation for her suffering even though records show that diocese officials found Bortz’s complaint to be credible.
The grand jury report has had some fallout for Traud. In April, he had been nominated to serve as the solicitor for the city of Allentown. The day after the grand jury report came out, City Council fired him.
“Who we choose to work for us is a statement of the values and the ideals that we hold,” Councilman Courtney Robinson told the The (Allentown, Pa.) Morning Call. “I do not believe the words attributed to attorney Traud represent anything that I as a citizen or as a member of this body want our attorney or legal adviser to represent.”
Traud has worked as the Allentown Diocese’s lawyer since the 1980s.
“Last night, I was removed as Allentown city solicitor without any member providing me notice or an opportunity to be heard,” Traud said Aug. 16 in a statement released to the press. “I am prohibited from any other comment by attorney-client privilege.”
In 2009 when Bishop John Barres was appointed to replace Bishop Edward Cullen, the head of the Catholic Church in Allentown when Bortz reported her abuse, the diocese formally reported complaints against Fromholzer to the Lehigh County District Attorney’s Office to comply with state law and diocese policy, according to the grand jury.
The Allentown Diocese’s present bishop, the Most Rev. Alfred Schlert, was appointed in June 2017. But as vicar general — second in command — of the diocese since 1998, Schlert was one of the diocese officials who originally met with Bortz, her lawyer and Traud, the grand jury report shows.
“I have always viewed victims and survivors as sincere, dignified, and extremely courageous for coming forward,” Schlert said last week. “I have always treated them with respect, and I always will. For those who suggest otherwise, nothing could be further from the truth.”
Follow Mike Argento on Twitter: @FnMikeArgento
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► Aug. 14: Pennsylvania grand jury report: Read the full document
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A map shows the counties in the Philadelphia Archdiocese and other dioceses of Pennsylvania (Source: Diocese of Harrisburg)
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