Lehigh Valley

Local church abuse survivors testify before grand jury

ALLENTOWN, Pa. - 69 News spoke with two survivors who still live in the Allentown Diocese who say when they testified before the grand jury, they felt that their words were finally heard and that they were believed. 

Mary McHale and Julianna Bortz are among the estimated 1,000 people identified as survivors by the Pennsylvania Grand Jury on Catholic clergy sex abuse.

"My abuse began in the confessional," said McHale. 

McHale said at 17 years old she was struggling with being a Catholic and a lesbian.

She said she feared she would go to hell so she sought the advice of a priest, Father James Gaffney.

After several private meetings, she said Gaffney told her about a special program that required McHale and Gaffney to take their clothes off.

"I went second, got down to my underwear and he wanted me to go further and I wouldn't," she said. 

McHale said she feared if she told anyone about what Gaffney allegedly did he would tell people she was gay.

Julianne Bortz was a freshman at Central Catholic high school when she says her religion teacher Father Frank Fromholzer took her and another girl to a secluded spot in the Poconos. 

A place he called paradise.

"He put a blanket down. He then just started with kissing and then he had me take a walk and then I came back and then (my friend) had to take a walk," said Bortz. 

Fromholzer denies the allegations. 

Bortz said when she finally told the church about the alleged abuse decades later, church leaders didn't want to hear it.

Bortz said she felt abandoned.

"I am here. I am the lost sheep. Come look for me. That's what I wanted," said Bortz. 

Both women say they're dismayed that most of the 301 clergy members named in the report won't have to register as sex offenders and only two will face charges.

"Across the United States that there should be no statute of limitation when it comes to criminal or civil cases when it comes to child sex abuse," said McHale. 

Both women say they are being public about their abuse in the hopes of helping others.

Bortz started a local chapter of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests and McHale has been lending her voice to calls for changes to the law.

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