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Sisters detail disturbing sex abuse by priest who was a trusted family friend

Sisters speak out about abuse by priest
Sisters speak out about abuse by Pennsylvania priest 04:27

Officials in New York, New Jersey and New Mexico announced investigations on Thursday into the handling of sex abuse allegations in the Catholic Church. Missouri recently announced a similar investigation, following a bombshell report released last month by a Pennsylvania grand jury alleging decades of abuse of more than 1,000 children by more than 300 priests.

In one case, five sisters were abused by the same priest.  

Four of the Fortney sisters -- Patty, Lara, Teresa, Carolyn -- decided to go public with their story of sexual abuse by their pastor in Enhaut, Pennsylvania, in the early 1980s. Patty said she was 13 when the abuse began, Lara 10, and Teresa in first grade. Carolyn said she was under 2 years old.

"I didn't realize it until I was 12," she said. "I was watching a movie of a priest molesting altar boys and that's kind of the day that I put it together."

Carolyn Fortney, Teresa Fortney-Miller, Laura Fortney McKeever, Patty Fortney-Julius. CBS News

Rev. Augustine Giella was a trusted family friend, a grandfatherly figure and a regular at meals where he often said grace.

"He would give us candy. He would take us out and just constantly giving, giving. Gave us stuff, bought us clothes, bought us toys. Anything we wanted," said Teresa Fortney-Miller.

While Giella gave, he took their innocence. When Patty was 13, he molested her as her little sisters looked on.  

"He was constantly hugging me in front of them, kissing me in front of them, trying to put his tongue in your mouth. He needed to know my cup size. I would continually remind myself, 'He's my priest. He's the mediator between God and man. This is okay,'" said Patty Fortney-Julius.

"I mean, even at our kitchen table things happened in front of my parents' face that they couldn't see," said Lara Fortney McKeever.

Giella retired in 1989 but the family still saw him.

Woman describes what it was like to reveal alleged priest abuse to family 00:47

"My niece actually found a box that had some pornography in it and … nude photos of Carolyn," said Fortney-Julius.

Their parents, Ed and Patty Fortney, reported the photos to the Harrisburg diocese in 1992. Another sister called child services, who then contacted the police. Giella was arrested and charged with child pornography and sexual assault. He died awaiting trial.

"It's bewildering," said Ed Fortney, the victims' father. "I gotta contemplate on it probably for the next 10 years, the-- to figure out where the hell I went wrong, you know?"

"We were on the inside. We didn't know... I mean, can you--  honestly think that if we knew, we would let something like that happen to our babies," said Patty Fortney.

The family did settle two civil lawsuits with the Harrisburg diocese. The sisters said they never discussed their abuse as children because they didn't understand what was happening.

"For a long time, we just-- we-- it's not that we weren't close. We just didn't know each other," said Carolyn Fortney.

"There's always this big elephant in the room when we were together-- because we-- you know, there was so much going on that we didn't want to talk about it," she added.

Sister shares impact of priest abuse on her family 00:42

Carolyn Fortney said they didn't address the abuse until about three years ago. Today, they're slowly telling their stories to each other, with the help of their entire family.

Carolyn Fortney said she decided to share her story to help others.

"We knew that we needed to do more to help prevent this from happening to other people," she said.

"I believe that there's going to be change," said Fortney-Miller. "I pray that there's going to be change because nobody should live like this with this pain. Nobody should. It's every day. But I have hope now. I do."

The bishop of the Harrisburg diocese told CBS News that he sends his deepest apologies and prayers to the Fortney family. The sisters say they have never received a direct apology and all four women left the Catholic Church.

The Diocese of Harrisburg said in a statement that Bishop Gainer "sends his deepest apologies and prayers to the Fortney family and all survivors of child sexual abuse."

"Clearly this case was not handled properly and those in positions of power failed to protect children from Giella, a monster who preyed on innocent children," the statement said.

It said Gainer has "ordered the names of any clergy or seminarian accused of child sexual abuse, as well as the names of all former Diocese of Harrisburg Bishops, dating back to 1947, be remove from all buildings and other places of honor." It also said that clergy, seminarians, employees and volunteers undergo background checks and "rigorous training on the issue of child sexual abuse."

Victims of priest abuse can call a hotline set up by Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro: 1-888-538-8541.

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