Grand jury report: Over 300 'predator priests' preyed on children in Pennsylvania

A grand jury report looking at sexual abuse within the Catholic Church in Pennsylvania says documents reveal there were more than 300 abusive priests who molested more than 1,000 children over the past several decades. The full report, which is hundreds of pages long, includes detailed information on each of the 300 priests that were investigated along with information on their specific abuse. Here’s a bit of the introduction of the report:

We were given the job of investigating child sex abuse in six dioceses – every diocese in the state except Philadelphia and Altoona -Johnstown, which were the subject of previous grand
juries. These six dioceses account for 54 of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties. We heard the testimony of dozens of witnesses concerning clergy sex abuse. We subpoenaed, and reviewed, half a million pages of internal diocesan documents. They contained credible allegations against over three hundred predator priests. Over one thousand child victims were identifiable, from the church’s own records. We believe that the real number – of children whose records were lost, or who were afraid ever to come forward – is in the thousands.

Most of the victims were boys; but there were girls too. Some were teens; many were prepubescent. Some were manipulated with alcohol or pornography. Some were made to masturbate their assailants, or were groped by them. Some were raped orally, some vaginally, some anally. But all of them were brushed aside, in every part of the state, by church leaders who preferred to protect the abusers and their institution above all.

As a consequence of the coverup, almost every instance of abuse we found is too old to be prosecuted.

One section of the report looks at the abuse and the response to it in each diocese in the state. Again, here’s just a sample from the introduction:

In the Diocese of Allentown, for example, documents show that a priest was confronted about an abuse complaint. He admitted, “Please help me. I sexually molested a boy.” The diocese concluded that “the experience will not necessarily be a horrendous trauma” for the victim, and that the family should just be given “an opportunity to ventilate.” The priest was left in unrestricted ministry for several more years, despite his own confession.

Similarly in the Diocese of Erie, despite a priest’s admission to assaulting at least a dozen young boys, the bishop wrote to thank him for “all that you have done for God’s people…. The
Lord, who sees in private, will reward.” Another priest confessed to anal and oral rape of at least 15 boys, as young as seven years old. The bishop later met with the abuser to commend him as “a person of candor and sincerity,” and to compliment him “for the progress he has made” in controlling his “addiction.” When the abuser was finally removed from the priesthood years later, the bishop ordered the parish not to say why; “nothing else need be noted.”

The final section of the report contains profiles on over 300 individual priests involved in one or more cases of abuse. Each one of these stories are different but they all involve priests who had allegations, often multiple, of sexual abuse but who were generally protected and in some cases given recommendations for other jobs where they would be near children. For instance, here’s the summary about one priest who went on to a career at Disney World.

In 2002, a victim, then aged thirty-seven, married, and the father of two children, contacted the Diocese and reported that, when he was 14 years old and an altar boy at St. Joseph
in Frackville, he was fondled and groped by Father Edward George Ganster. On one occasion, Ganster dragged the boy across a living room floor, pulling him by the underwear. Ganster also beat the victim repeatedly, once using a metal cross. The abuse at the hands of Ganster lasted for over one and a half years and all happened in St. Joseph’s Rectory. The victim made a second report to the Diocese in March 2004. Despite having two reports and having given counseling to the victim, the Diocese did not report the abuse to the Northampton County District Attorney’s Office until 2007.

In 2005, the mother of a second victim reported to the Diocese that her now adult son was sexually abused in 1977 by Ganster, when the second victim was thirteen years of age. The
mother permitted the second victim to accompany Ganster to the beach on an overnight trip. Sometime after that trip, the second victim told his parents that Ganster hurt him and got in bed with him. He also stated that something happened in the confessional. The second victim told his parents not long after the incidents occurred. The mother immediately told Monsignor Connelly about the abuse. According to the second victim’s mother, Monsignor Connelly said he would take care of the situation. Connelly told her that Ganster would be given some counseling and would be removed from the parish. The following Sunday at Mass, Ganster announced he was being reassigned. Still, the second victim’s life spiraled out of control with broken relationships and anger issues resulting from the abuse.

In 2015, the mother of a third victim contacted the Diocese and reported that her son was abused by Ganster in the summer of 1977, when the third victim was twelve years old. No more information regarding this incident was provided by the Diocese.

Ganster was placed on sick leave at the end of 1987 and sent to St. John Vianney Hospital in Downingtown in 1988. Ganster was eventually laicized at his request, as he wanted to get
married and was already working in the secular world. The Diocese agreed and laicized him in 1990. As he was in the process of being laicized, Ganster wrote the Diocese indicating he would be seeking employment at Walt Disney World and hoped to use the Diocese as a reference. Ganster also indicated he was planning on marrying a woman he met at St. John Vianney.

In a letter to the Bishop of Orlando, Nobert Dorsey, from the Bishop of Allentown, Thomas Welsh, Welsh informed Dorsey that Ganster intended to marry. Welsh told Dorsey
Ganster met his future bride while at St. John Vianney, adding, “I don’t know her problems. His were at least partially sexual and led to my decision that I could not reassign him.” Despite knowing Ganster was a sexual predator, Monsignor Muntone responded to Ganster’s request for a reference by writing, “I am quite sure that the Diocese will be able to give you a positive reference in regard to the work you did during your years of service here as a priest.” With the reference, Ganster was hired by Walt Disney World and worked there for the next eighteen years.

What’s truly heartbreaking about some of the reports is the lifelong damage done to the victims. For instance:

In October 2005, the parents of a fifth victim reported to Monsignor Gobitas that their son had been sexually abused by Kean. After meeting with the parents of the fifth victim,
Gobitas composed a one -page memorandum -to -file concerning the abuse. The fifth victim was reported by his parents to be addicted to heroin and suicidal.

Another example involving a different priest:

Shortly after Deakin ended the relationship, she became a troubled child, acting out in school and eventually failing tenth grade. In December, 1989, she began to have nightmares
about the sexual abuse she endured. She entered counseling and revealed her relationship with Deakin to her mother and to her psychiatrist. She became despondent and suicidal and she had to be hospitalized.

In October 1990, she was hospitalized again and was not released until January, 1991. She reentered the hospital again in March of 1991 for a short stay. She underwent psychotherapy
on an outpatient basis. She was eventually diagnosed with post -traumatic stress disorder and major depression, all the result of the sexual abuse.

Another summary contains a quote from a therapist who was treating one of the victims:

the sexual abuse has stunted the (male’s) emotional development to the point where he cannot emotionally connect with others, which subsequently leads to severe depression…(male) also has a history of anxiety and panic attack, drug and alcohol abuse, as well as suicidal ideation… (male) has had two suicide attempts…(male) has flashbacks to the abuse in the form of dreams which is one of the criteria for diagnosing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD …he also experiences anxiety and panic attacks as well as a fear of being watched.

This report is an unending horror show of predators preying on children and adults who were aware of the abuse choosing to mostly keep it quiet and pretend it hadn’t happened. The grand jurors recommend that the state of Pennsylvania do away with the statute of limitations which prevents charges from being filed in most of the cases described here. But while that might bring some justice (and some money) to the victims, it could never make up for the lifelong damage this caused to an unknown number of people, many of whom have yet to come forward.

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