15 priests accused of abuse had ties to Harrisburg diocese

| 8/9/2016 |Brandie Kessler | York Daily Record

 

The Diocese of Harrisburg has acknowledged by name 15 priests who have been accused of sexually abusing children and who at one time worked in the diocese — including one who served in Dallastown in 1989-90.

The Rev. Raymond Prybis was accused of abuse during his time at a Boston-area parish before he was transferred to York County, according to a personnel file released by the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis in January 2015. The Harrisburg diocese said he did not have a credible allegation of abuse while at St. Joseph’s in Dallastown.

A list of 15 priests, compiled by the York Daily Record, was provided to the diocese on June 14. On July 21, after multiple requests by the Daily Record, the diocese responded to each name on the list. It is believed to be the first time the Harrisburg diocese has confirmed a list of accused priests, including details on where and when they served, and how the diocese responded when the allegations were made.

In 2007, the diocese said publicly that it had received allegations against 24 priests since 1950, but it did not name them. As of Aug. 8, it had not responded to a request for information on all accused priests with ties to the Harrisburg diocese.

The Daily Record’s investigation was spurred by grand jury findings in the neighboring Altoona-Johnstown diocese. That report revealed more than 50 accused priests and hundreds of victims. The YDR’s effort to account for the scope of clergy abuse in the Harrisburg diocese has resulted in findings that include:

  • Fifteen priests identified as having been accused of abusing children, including eight never named publicly through the diocese or media.
  • In some cases, the Harrisburg diocese’s response to the list of 15 did not say whether an accusation was credible, even if it said action was taken against a priest. The diocese did not provide details in response to follow-up questions from the York Daily Record.
  • The diocese continues to hear from – and offer help to – survivors of priest abuse. The effort includes an office within the diocese that has a limitless budget earmarked for survivors.
  • The diocese could be expected to have had more than 50 offenders since 1950, according to a formula from Richard Sipe, a psychotherapist and former monk who has studied the celibate/sexual behavior of clergy and clergy sexual abuse of minors.
  • Insight into how the diocese handled some cases. For example, a former vicar related how a priest was removed from active ministry because a psychological evaluation indicated he was at low risk to abuse another child. Any risk was too much for the bishop at the time.
  • The diocese acknowledged that three priests of the 15 – Thomas Lawler, James Noel and Frederick Vaughn – were subjects of sexual abuse allegations that were made after their deaths.

The diocese said it wants to hear from survivors.

“If you have knowledge of anyone, anywhere who was hurt by these deceased men or any other priest or employee of the Diocese of Harrisburg, please report the abuse immediately to the proper authorities and to our victim assistance hotline,” the Harrisburg diocese wrote in a statement in response to the YDR’s questions. “We will support their healing no matter how long ago the abuse took place.”

One expert, told of the YDR’s findings, said there are likely Harrisburg diocese cases that haven’t been reported. Boston attorney Mitchell Garabedian has litigated settlements or arbitration awards against more than 170 clerics, most of those in the Boston archdiocese, according to his firm’s website.

“There would be no doubt that, if there was publicity on this, that there will be calls” from people alleging abuse, Garabedian said.

The priests

Local news organizations, quoting the diocese or court records, previously reported on seven priests who had been accused of abuse and who had served in the Harrisburg diocese, including four who worked in York County: Augustine Giella, Reginald Krakovsky, Guy Marsico and Joseph M. Pease. The other three, who did not serve in York County, are John G. Allen, David Luck and Patrick Shannon.

York Daily Record research found eight additional clerics who have had allegations against them and who have worked in the diocese. They are Prybis, Lawler, Noel, Vaughn, John R. Bostwick III, William Geiger, Gerald Bugge and James Shaughnessey.

In July, the Diocese of Harrisburg provided written information about those 15.

In some cases, like that of Prybis, who worked at St. Joseph’s in Dallastown from April 1989 to June 1990, the diocese said it had no record of a credible allegation while he was working in the diocese.

The Daily Record’s information on the 15 came from news reports, court documents, information from the Harrisburg diocese or interviews with attorneys and others. The eight who had not been reported on:

John Bostwick III was accused in 1996 of abuse that allegedly took place from 1980-82, when he worked in the diocese. The Harrisburg diocese said it contacted the Diocese of Richmond (Va.), where Bostwick was in 1996, and he was removed from ministry. Bostwick could not be reached for comment.

Gerald Bugge was named on a list of priests issued by the Archdiocese of Baltimore in September 2002. The list included priests who had served in the Baltimore archdiocese and who had been accused, in their lifetimes, of child sexual abuse. His faculties were removed, which means he was no longer authorized to perform functions such as absolving sins in confession and witnessing marriages. The Harrisburg diocese said Bugge was at St. Anthony of Padua in Lancaster from August 1986 to April 1988. It said there is no record of a credible allegation against Bugge while he was assigned to the diocese. Bugge is dead.

William Geiger was the subject of a lawsuit filed by Ohio attorney David Zoll in 2002 over abuse that allegedly occurred in the 1970s in Lima, Ohio. Geiger was assigned to Our Mother of Perpetual Help in Ephrata from July 1987 to August 1993 and from August 1999 to June 2007, the diocese said; and was at St. Anthony of Padua between April 1994 and August 1999. A Harrisburg diocese spokesman said the diocese did not have a record of a credible allegation against Geiger while he worked there. Geiger is dead.

Thomas F. Lawler was assigned to churches in the Harrisburg diocese for at least 22 years from the 1960s to the 1980s, according to “The Official Catholic Directory” and his obituary. The Harrisburg diocese said it has received allegations of abuse against Lawler since his death, but had not received any allegations while Lawler was living.

James E. Noel, born in York, was the subject abuse allegations after his death, the Harrisburg diocese said. It said there were no allegations against him while he was alive.

Raymond Prybis was assigned in the Boston archdiocese before and after he was in Dallastown, and an allegation of abuse that allegedly occurred while he was assigned in the Boston archdiocese surfaced in the early 1990s.

James Shaughnessey was assigned to Assumption Blessed Virgin Mary in Lebanon and St. Joan of Arc in Hershey in the 1930s and ’40s, according to the Harrisburg diocese. He is among priests named by the Boston archdiocese on its website, where it lists accused priests. No details about the alleged abuse are listed. Shaughnessey is on a list of clergy against whom Garabedian has brought claims. Garabedian was unable to locate details or documents regarding the case. Shaughnessey is dead.

Frederick Vaughn was listed at St. Joseph’s in York in the 1965 copy of “The Official Catholic Directory.” He was assigned to St. Peter’s in Elizabethtown from 1966 to 1970; St. Mark the Evangelist in Franklin County from 1971 to 1986; St. James in Dauphin County from 1987 to 1988 and then retired in 1989, according to “The Official Catholic Directory” for those years. He died in 1992, according to the Harrisburg diocese. The Harrisburg diocese said it received allegations of abuse against Vaughn after his death but not while he was alive.

The attorney general’s office opened a hotline after the Altoona-Johnstown report in March. Over the following four months, more than 300 people called to report they had been sexually abused by clergy. A spokesman for the AG’s office said in July that the hotline still receives calls “on a regular basis.”

The office refused to say whether any of those calls involved the Harrisburg diocese.

The national picture : In 2004, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops commissioned the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University to create and annual survey of dioceses around the United States. According to the 2015 annual report that summarizes the compliance audit, in which 70 dioceses and eparchies were visited and another 120 submitted documentation for review, dioceses and eparchies that were audited paid out $141,283,794 between July 1, 2014, and June 30, 2015, for costs related to allegations reported in previous years. That total for the previous year was $106,499,180.

The Boston connection

 

Before coming to St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church in Dallastown, Raymond Prybis was assigned to six churches in six dioceses in five states over 22 years. He spent less than two years in Dallastown before being moved to a residence for priests of his religious order in Massachusetts, according to The Official Catholic Directory, which lists assignments for priests around the world.

Of the total reported paid out as of June 30, 2015, about $8.7 million paid for therapy for victims, about $87 million was for settlements. Another $11.5 million was support for offenders, and $30.1 million was for attorneys’ fees, according to the audit report.

Garabedian said that movement fits a pattern of how the Catholic church handled clergy abuse cases: A priest accused in one parish would be moved to another, and neither the parish communities nor the public would be told of his past.

It isn’t common to shift priests around frequently between dioceses unless there is a problem, such as an accusation of sexual abuse, said Garabedian, who was portrayed in the movie “Spotlight,” about the Boston Globe’s investigation into clergy abuse.

“Canon Law dictates the church has to record the activity of who’s being transferred, where and why,” Garabedian said.

That means a bishop would have to know about an accused priest’s past, even if the accusation was never made public. The bishop or cardinal would also have to approve that priest for work in their diocese, Garabedian said.

After Prybis left Dallastown, an allegation of sexual abuse against him at a Lowell, Massachusetts, church was reported by the Boston Globe and other newspapers. An article in the Boston Globe says the allegation was made public after the church was ordered by a court to provide files for various clergy to a law firm representing abuse victims.

The allegation was detailed in court documents filed in January 2003 by Boston attorney Eric Macleish. A handwritten letter described a phone call that a church staff member took from a 23-year-old man who said that, when he was 14 or 15, a naked Prybis approached him in the rectory of a Lowell church and asked the boy to beat him with a belt. The incident allegedly occurred 1983 or 1984, about five or six years before Prybis moved to Dallastown.

The staff member wrote in a memo that the man’s concerns when he called about Prybis included: “Where has he been the last eight years? (Affecting whom?)”

A Minnesota law firm, Jeff Anderson & Associates, which represents victims of childhood sexual abuse and clergy sexual abuse, includes a personnel file for Prybis on its website. That file includes letters to and from church leadership in the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, sent between May 2001 and January 2004. The letters detail how, at first, Prybis — at that point 14 years removed from his time at Dallastown — was approved for an assignment in the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, but was later removed from service.

In one letter, Archbishop Harry J. Flynn wrote that he was “somewhat surprised to learn” that Prybis would work at a retreat center that hosted groups of students.

“I urge you, therefore, to take every possible precaution to ensure that Father Prybis will have absolutely no contact with those students or any of the other retreatants,” Flynn wrote.

Several letters reference an allegation against Prybis. One letter sent to Prybis from Flynn, after Prybis had been removed from active ministry, said the decision to remove his faculties was the result of a “review of your dossier, rather than of any new allegations.”

Prybis left Dallastown in June 1990, according to the Harrisburg diocese, to go to a residence for priests of his order in Tewksbury, Massachusetts. The diocese said it has “no record of a credible allegation made against” Prybis while he was in Dallastown. The diocese said a “credible” allegation meets the definition if “there are elements of truth that can be verified, even if there is no admission of guilt on the part of the accused.”

St. Joseph’s in Dallastown referred questions to the diocese.

One York County church, St. Joseph’s in Springettsbury Township, published a message signed by the Rev. Robert M. Gillelan Jr., secretary for clergy and consecrated life for the Harrisburg diocese, in its Aug. 7 bulletin.

The message acknowledges the York Daily Record’s article, and notes that while “it has been the longstanding policy of the Diocese not to publish names” of accused clergy, the diocese “decided to provide accurate information in the interest of transparency and healing.” It offers contact information to concerned parishioners.

The Rev. Louis Studer, director of personnel for Prybis’ order, the Oblates of Mary Immaculate in the United States, said in July that Prybis is being supervised and kept away from situations where he could have contact with children.

“I can verify that Ray Prybis is not in public ministry, he has not been for at least 10 years, and he will not be returned to public ministry,” Studer said. He said Prybis is living in an Oblate residence where he has no access to minors, but declined to say where the residence is. Studer said he didn’t want a reporter to bother Prybis.

“He has a superior, an Oblate who is his superior, and so he needs to verify with that superior when he leaves the residence and when he comes back,” Studer said. “His comings and goings are monitored.”

Asked to pass along a request for comment to Prybis, Studer said, “I would not want to do that. He’s not in public ministry. He is not a danger to anyone anymore.”

The diocese and abuse survivors

The Harrisburg diocese said it continues to hear from alleged victims — and to support survivors of clergy abuse.

“I can tell you we have responded to the survivors and their families with compassion and support to help them heal,” Bishop Ronald W. Gainer wrote in a statement. The diocese declined the Daily Record’s requests to interview Gainer.

The diocese makes funding available to survivors for counseling and medical treatment, helps with travel and child care, and provides vocational assistance and other support, he said. It also continues to improve the safety of church and school environments, Gainer said.

Mark Totaro, the victim assistance coordinator and the CEO of Catholic Charities for the diocese, authorizes payments for victims’ services.

Totaro said he has no budget, meaning he can spend what he wants on services for victims without the bishop or others questioning him. The diocese has spent roughly $3.4 million since 1950, including as part of settlement agreements and for things like therapy.

According to Totaro, receiving assistance from the diocese works like this: He is given a report, either from the alleged victim or a third party. He contacts the vicar general, and the diocese assigns a Canon lawyer and a therapist from Totaro’s office. Within 24 hours, the alleged victim and the alleged perpetrator are interviewed. A “response team” of clergy and laypeople discuss the case and decide how to proceed. With input from the response team, the bishop decides whether an allegation is credible.

“We always offer 100 percent, counseling, therapy, ‘How can we heal you?’” Totaro said. “And then I try to do what I can for the victim to assess their need.”

But the diocese’s financial support isn’t limited to things directly related to a survivor’s abuse. The diocese is paying for Catholic school tuition for one abuse survivor’s grandchildren, Totaro said. The man was sexually abused as a child and told the diocese he wanted his grandchildren to get a Catholic school education.

Since Totaro started in 2004, he said, he has heard from about 20 people who reported being sexually abused by clergy. Between June 2014 and July 2015, the Harrisburg diocese said, it received one new report of abuse by a priest. The priest had not been in ministry since the 1980s and is deceased, the diocese said.

The diocese did not respond to a Daily Record request to update information it released in 2007 that said 46 allegations against 24 priests had been made since 1950. No records could be found to account for the number of accused priests and allegations to date in the Harrisburg diocese, or to identify all accused priests with ties to the diocese and provide details on the allegations.

Sipe, the psychotherapist and former monk, who was named in the movie “Spotlight,” said his ongoing research shows that about 6 percent of clergy sexually abuse children. That would amount to 54 of the roughly 900 priests who have worked in the Harrisburg diocese between 1950-2007.

The Altoona investigation revealed hundreds of allegations against at least 50 priests, according to the grand jury report.

According to Tony DeGol, spokesman for the Altoona-Johnstown diocese, in the fall of 2015, the eight-county area had a Catholic population of 84,039, and 117 active diocesan and religious order priests.

By comparison, according to the Harrisburg diocese’s 2015-2016 directory, its 15-county area had a Catholic population of 243,227 and 135 active diocesan and religious order priests.

Harrisburg diocese’s handling of reported abuse

The Harrisburg diocese said it goes above and beyond what the law requires with regard to its reporting of clergy abuse.

Totaro said when the diocese gets a report of clergy abuse, it notifies the district attorney’s office in the county where the alleged abuse took place, “even if it’s a 50-year-old case where everybody is dead,” he said.

Accused priests who are in active ministry will be removed from Catholic ministry as soon as possible while the allegation is being investigated, Totaro said. The diocese has not removed any cleric from active ministry for more than 10 years, said Joseph Aponick, diocese spokesman.

The diocese’s response team decided against posting the names of accused clerics online, Totaro said. The issue came up about two years ago.

The team “saw no purpose in doing that, since it was in the papers, it’s in our parishes, it’s in the church bulletins, it’s in ‘The Catholic Witness,’ our local bi-weekly newspaper,” he said.

The Rev. Msgr. William King, former vicar general for the Diocese of Harrisburg and current pastor of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Mechanicsburg, has been a judge in ecclesiastical trials for clergy accused of sexual abuse around the country. He said the Harrisburg diocese has “been very attentive” to survivors of abuse. He said it has been aggressive in its efforts to protect youth.

“What’s the difference in Harrisburg?” King said. “It’s not that we have no abusers, we certainly do, but we have been very quick in responding to accusations, and removing priests from active ministry.”

He recalled one case, before the scandal of clergy abuse came to light in the U.S., when former Bishop Nicholas Dattilo removed an accused priest from active ministry. Dattilo was bishop from 1990 to 2004. Psychologists who evaluated the priest said there was a low risk he would abuse another child. But Dattilo, King recalled, said he wouldn’t return a priest to active ministry as long as any risk existed.

The Rev. Thomas Doyle, who has worked with clergy abuse survivors for more than 30 years, said he has heard that the Harrisburg diocese has handled cases of clergy abuse “as professionally and compassionately as possible.”

That said, he advocates for dioceses being “completely open and honest” about its past clergy abuse. The Harrisburg diocese did not respond to most follow-up questions about the information it released in July, including requests for details about credibly accused priests.

“It’s not all over now, and it’s not in the past. The victims continue to come forward,” Doyle said.

Susan Blum of New Freedom, who is 63, was sexually abused by a priest in the Boston area when she was 15 years old. She didn’t tell anyone about the abuse until about three years ago when she found the priest’s name on www.BishopAccountability.org, saw he had abused at least one other, and knew she wasn’t alone.

“If I had not found Bishop Accountability, I would not have come forward for my perpetrator and begun healing,” Blum said.

Doyle said most dioceses want to emphasize the child protection efforts they have in place.

“All that stuff is important, but they’ve done almost nothing about the thousands of thousands of people whose lives have been shattered” by past abuse, Doyle said.

Victims want perpetrators’ names made public, “but the church in general doesn’t want to do that,” Doyle said. “This is horrific, and to make it go away you’ve got to be totally honest.”

Were you abused or do you know someone who was abused by clergy?

If you were abused by clergy or know someone who was, the Diocese of Harrisburg wants you to report the abuse to law enforcement, to the ChildLine by calling 1-800-932-0313, and by calling the Harrisburg diocese’s victim assistance line at 1-800-626-1608.

York County’s Victim Assistance Center provides free, confidential counseling to child sexual abuse victims. Call 1-800-422-3204.

To speak with reporter Brandie Kessler, call 717-771-2035 or 717-817-9642, or send an email to bkessler@ydr.com.

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