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The Courage of John Matko

November 18, 2011

On Saturday November 12th the Penn State football team played its last home game of the season amid the turmoil of the sexual assault scandal that has enveloped the university.  The world was just beginning to learn of the reported crimes committed by Jerry Sandusky and the cover up of those crimes by coach Jo Paterno and other officials at Penn State.

NPR reported that those who attended the football game, and the players themselves, made an effort to show that they stood in solidarity with the victims of sexual assault.  A photo accompanied the story showing college students who had painted their chests blue with white letters so that when they stood in unison the message “FOR THE KIDS” was proclaimed.  Likewise many of the over 107,000 fans who attended the game wore blue to show their support for those children who have been harmed.  The football players themselves entered the field and a moment of silence was held for the victims of Sandusky.

It was a wonderful public show of support for the victims at the heart of the Penn State scandal, as well as for all children who have been subjected to such heinous crimes.  It was a heartwarming moment that stood in stark contrast to the rioting that erupted only days earlier when the university announced that Jo Paterno would be fired from his coaching position effective immediately.

The heartfelt emotions that were expressed inside of the stadium tell only a part of the story.  Outside of the stadium something much darker was taking place.

The Philadelphia Weekly reported on what happened when one man stood up to support those children at the heart of this scandal.  John Matko, a Penn state graduate, stood on the street, which had been closed to traffic, with two handmade signs.  The signs read “The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil but because of those who look on and do nothing”, a quote attributed to Albert Einstein, and “Honor the abused kids by canceling this game and the season NOW”.

John found himself surrounded by hundreds of fans, many who proudly wore shirts that proclaimed “We Love Jo”, displaying their undying devotion to a man who is reported to have covered up the rape and sodomy of a child.  These individuals descended upon John and let him know what they thought of his message.  They attempted to humiliate him by spitting on him, dumping beer on him, calling him a “faggot”, and a “piece of shit”.  They ripped his signs from his hand and threw them to the ground, after which John bent down and picked them up again.  It is reported that John stayed silent in the face of the crowd’s hatred.

He later said that “I knew I was gonna be outnumbered today, but I didn’t know quite how much.  I was part of this community and I know how narrow minded everybody is around here, and they still don’t get it”.

John is right.  There are still people who “don’t get it” and they possibly never will.  They do not understand the harm that is done to a child when they are sexually assaulted, and they do not comprehend that a child’s life and future are more important than protecting the image of an institution whether it is Penn State or the Catholic Church.

We should be grateful that there are people like John Matko, and other brave souls, who are willing to take a stand, and subject themselves to misunderstanding and ridicule, in order to give voice to children who depend on us to keep them safe.

From → National Updates

One Comment
  1. mike ference permalink

    The University of Pittsburgh will soon have to answer for their sins of covering up sex abuse. I have notified the communications department at UPMC, the entire legal department at the University of Pittsburgh and of course, Rita Flaherty at the Pittsburgh Diocese. No response.

    For more information, contact:
    Mike Ference

    The Last Call: Second Protest Announced

    Pittsburgh, PA — November 10, 2011 — On December 5, 2011, well-known local activist Mike Ference will stage the second in a series of “Last Call” protests targeting local institutions and individuals tied to cases involving the abuse of children and young adults. The protest will take place at 10:00 AM in front of the Allegheny County Detectives Bureau in Dormont.

    Ference is targeting the bureau for failing to take action after he presented detailed information about alleged clergy sex abuse, cover-ups and other criminal behavior to them several years ago. “Detectives Dennis Logan and Keith Andrews basically blew me off. They weren’t the least bit interested in asking me any questions or following up on anything,” Ference says.

    He adds that Assistant District Attorney Laura Ditka also showed little interest, although she did help him secure the police report on the attempted murder of his son in 1989 — the event that inspired him to begin his work as an activist. Ference says he had been unable to obtain the report directly from the McKeesport Police Department, and that then-McKeesport Mayor Jim Brewster remained reluctant to release the files, even though they are considered public record.

    Ference initially began investigating the attempted murder of his son because he felt the case had been botched and prematurely closed by the McKeesport police. William Scully, then Public Safety Director in Clairton, gave Ference notes on the case and encouraged him to continue investigating on his own. A central issue was whether the shooter had been sexually abused and encouraged to study the occult by a local Catholic priest. In more than two decades of work since then, Ference has uncovered and written about numerous related tales of child sexual abuse and cover-ups in the region.

    “What has happened in the Mon Valley is every bit as disturbing as Cardinal Bernard Law’s cover-up in the Boston Archdiocese and the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse case unfolding at Penn State,” Ference says. “What I’ve found again and again during my investigations is that such abuse can’t happen without various community stakeholders ‘looking the other way.’ My Last Call protests are an effort to expose some of the individuals and institutions we need to hold responsible.”

    Ference’s December 5 protest will concentrate on one specific report of clergy sex abuse, cover-up, and possible intimidation by persons associated with the Pittsburgh Diocese. Based on an interview and email exchanges with the alleged victim, telephone conversations with the victim’s parents and interviews with other individuals in community, Ference summarizes the case as follows:

    In 1988, former Catholic priest John Wellinger fed drugs and alcohol to an 18-year-old college student from the University of Pittsburgh at the student’s apartment. According to the victim, Wellinger also gave him a “Mickey” which knocked him out for several hours. Upon waking, the youth called 911, ran down his apartment steps and met the Pittsburgh EMS squad at the bottom. The EMS took him to the emergency room of Presbyterian University Hospital, now part of University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. The young man was given a bed. Wellinger followed him to the hospital and into his room. The victim asked Wellinger to get his nurse. When the nurse entered the room, the young man informed the nurse that Wellinger was the person who harmed him. The nurse ushered Wellinger out. The parents of the victim were summoned, but the victim claims that he was never seen or treated by a doctor and that the police were not called.

    Ference also quotes from emails sent to him by the alleged victim: “My dad did report Wellinger’s behavior. Did you forget the excommunication letter he received from the diocese that I told you about? Did you forget about my dad being forced off the rectory grounds by West Mifflin police? Or maybe you forgot that I told the nurse in the ER that night that a priest did this to me. Or maybe you forgot how my family was ostracized from the neighborhood. We weren’t quiet, Mike. We were ignored. Just like you and everyone else. I was abused.”

    In correspondence with Rita Flaherty from the Pittsburgh Diocese, Ference has been told that the Diocese is not aware of any allegations concerning this individual. In an email dated November 9, 2011, Flaherty writes:

    “If someone has come to you with information that they have been abused, please have them contact me directly at 412-456-3060 or through our hotline number 1-888-808-1235. We would want to meet with that person and hear their story first hand and see what assistance we could provide to them. After dealing with the person directly, we follow our policies of reporting any alleged abuse involving a minor (no matter how old the alleged victim is now) to the appropriate civil authorities in the area where the abuse allegedly occurred. It is certainly my desire to assist any victim of abuse with their healing to the best of my ability.”

    Ference says this email represents a positive change from the “deny, stonewall, cover-up and hush up” tactics that he has found to be common in cases involving clergy. However, he also feels the time for patience and gradual change is long past. “For two decades I have called on certain institutions and individuals to come forward and take responsibility for their roles — active or passive — in child sex abuse,” he explains. “This is the last call — those who don’t do the right thing will be ‘outted’ at a series of protests where I will publicize incriminating details from my 22-year investigation. Abusers who have harmed children and those who knowingly covered up the crimes will be named — I want everyone in our community to know who the bad guys are.”

    Additional protests are in the planning stage. Ference says UPMC Hospital in Oakland is a likely site because of its ties to the clerical abuse case discussed above. He is also considering the police departments and municipal buildings of McKeesport, Clairton, and West Mifflin, due to their involvement in the mishandled investigation of the attempted murder of his son. District Attorney Stephen Zappala’s office and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette were also mentioned as stakeholders who have been more interested in protecting the church hierarchy than punishing abusers and defending children.

    Ference says, “apparently in western PA the rules to protect children do not apply.”

    For more information on the December 5 protest or other upcoming events, call Mike Ference at 412-233-5491, or email

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