Priests Say Bishop Issues Gag Order

By Gill Donovan
National Catholic Reporter
March 14, 2003

Under penalty of excommunication or suspension, a Pennsylvania bishop imposed a gag order for all his priests, forbidding them from voicing public disagreement with diocesan policy.

Speaking on condition their names not be revealed, some priests told The Tribune-Democrat of Johnstown that the gag order had been issued by their bishop, James Adamec of Altoona-Johnstown, Pa., several months ago. The diocese is located some 80 miles from Pittsburgh.

The priests said that Adamec imposed the order after priests were publicly critical about possible church closings and about the way the diocese handled a 1994 sexual abuse lawsuit. In that suit, Adamec was criticized for paying more in attorney fees than to the victim of abuse by now-defrocked priest Francis Luddy. The diocese refused the paper's request for comment on the gag order.

Along with news of the order, the paper has reported that some victims of abuse allege the diocese has not followed the U.S. bishops' charter for the protection of children, which calls for the removal from ministry of priests credibly accused of abusing minors.

In the last month, seven men have come forward with lawsuits alleging abuse by diocesan priests. The suits do not name the accused priests as defendants because the statute of limitations has expired in the cases, but rather name Adamec, former Bishop James Hogan and the diocese for conspiring to protect the priests.

In one case, Anthony Coray, 39, has claimed he was molested over a two-year period by Fr. Robert Kelly some 27 years ago.

Kelly has denied the allegation and criticized the paper's coverage of the case. Noting that Coray's story alleging abuse has changed dramatically since it was first told to diocesan authorities 10 years ago, the priest said he believes Coray made the allegation to get money.

Kelly continues to serve as pastor of Ss. Peter and Paul Parish in Phillipsburg. The diocese says that it temporarily removed the priest from his assignment after Coray first reported inappropriate contact by Kelly in 1993. However, after evaluations of Kelly failed to substantiate any allegations, the diocese returned him to ministry.

In a Feb. 13 statement posted on the diocese's Web site, the bishop said that he had to respond to the faithful for having been named a defendant in civil cases alleging that a conspiracy existed "within this diocesan church that allows and even promotes inappropriate behavior on the part of its priests in regard to minors."

"The complaints," he said, "accuse the diocese of Altoona-Johnstown, along with former Diocesan Bishop Hogan and me, of not handling cases of alleged minor abuse by priests appropriately. I believe that each one of us did, given the facts and circumstances, properly handle such cases."

Adamec canceled a Feb. 28 news conference, saying that a meeting would prevent his attendance.

Gill Donovan is an NCR staff writer. His e-mail address is

Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.