ShareThis Page
Pennsylvania

Former U.S. Attorney in Pittsburgh applauds federal Catholic clergy abuse probe, reveals what he witnessed as a child

Deb Erdley
| Thursday, Nov. 29, 2018, 6:57 p.m.
David Hickton, former U.S. Attorney for Western Pennsylvania
submitted
David Hickton, former U.S. Attorney for Western Pennsylvania

As the top federal prosecutor in Western Pennsylvania, David Hickton tried a Somerset County priest for molesting children at a Central American orphanage and later invoked federal organized crime statutes in an inquiry into the Altoona- Johnstown diocese.

He said he had reason to be suspicious of the Catholic church.

In a lengthy interview with USAToday published Thursday, Hickton, 63, revealed that he personally witnessed teammates on his sixth-grade basketball team at St. Anne’s School in Castle Shannon singled out by a coach who was fondling children. Though the former altar boy said he was never abused, he said he saw the team’s coach select a child to shower with him after every game.

“It was like Russian roulette,” Hickton, the former U.S. attorney in Pittsburgh, told USA Today. “Everybody was looking at each other, worried that they might be next.”

Like many children, Hickton remained quiet, wondering why the priest who oversaw the coach’s ritual did nothing to protect the boys. Later, he learned the priest — the Rev. Charles J. Chatt — was among 99 priests in the Pittsburgh diocese identified by a statewide grand jury as a “predator priest” who repeatedly abused children himself.

The grand jury’s report detailed abuse and cover-ups in six Pennsylvania dioceses, including the three covering Western Pennsylvania — Erie, Greensburg and Pittsburgh. The nearly 900-page report cited one victim’s account years later of Chatt’s indifference when told that members of the basketball team were being abused.

Hickton, who oversees the University of Pittsburgh Institute for Cyber Law, Policy and Security, said he remains firm in his Catholic faith. Nonetheless, he questions the church’s handling of abuse complaints and said he applauds Philadelphia federal prosecutor William McSwain for launching a sweeping federal investigation of allegations of sexual abuse in Catholic dioceses across Pennsylvania.

“Had I not left office, that’s where I was going next. Had I stayed in office, I would have proceeded through Pittsburgh, Greensburg and Erie,” said Hickton, who served from 2010-16 as U.S. attorney of the Western District of Pennsylvania, which is based in Pittsburgh but covers 25 counties.

Hickton first broached the concept that federal racketeering laws might apply to the Catholic church in 2016, on the heels of a state grand jury report that examined allegations of clergy sexual abuse and cover-ups in the Altoona-Johnstown diocese.

Although most cases highlighted in the Altoona-Johnstown grand jury report were outside the Pennsylvania statutes of limitations, as were almost all of the cases highlighted in the grand jury report released in August, Hickton said federal law provides prosecutors with tools that might be effective.

The federal Racketeering, Influenced and Corrupt Organizations, or RICO, law typically used to target organized crime has no statute of limitations for civil actions, Hickton said.

Deb Erdley is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Deb at 412-320-7996, derdley@tribweb.com or via Twitter @deberdley_trib.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.

click me