Editor’s note: What follows are excerpts of the 40th Statewide Investigating Grand Jury Report into child sexual abuse in six Pennsylvania Roman Catholic dioceses that was made public Tuesday. It is the product of what victims’ advocates called the most extensive investigation into clergy child sexual abuse conducted by any state.
Please note that the language in the report is graphic.
The grand jury report
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. ...
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.
While each church district had its idiosyncrasies, the pattern was pretty much the same. The main thing was not to help children, but to avoid “scandal.” ...
The strategies were so common that they were susceptible to behavioral analysis by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. For our benefit, the FBI agreed to assign members of its National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime to review a significant portion of the evidence received by the grand jury. Special agents testified before us that they had identified a series of practices that regularly appeared, in various configurations, in the diocesan files they had analyzed. It’s like a playbook for concealing the truth:
— First, make sure to use euphemisms rather than real words to describe the sexual assaults in diocese documents. Never say “rape”; say “inappropriate contact” or “boundary issues.”
— Second, don’t conduct genuine investigations with properly trained personnel. Instead, assign fellow clergy members to ask inadequate questions and then make credibility determinations about the colleagues with whom they live and work.
— Third, for an appearance of integrity, send priests for “evaluation” at church-run psychiatric treatment centers. Allow these experts to “diagnose” whether the priest was a pedophile, based largely on the priest’s “self-reports,” and regardless of whether the priest had actually engaged in sexual contact with a child.
— Fourth, when a priest does have to be removed, don’t say why. Tell his parishioners that he is on “sick leave,” or suffering from “nervous exhaustion.” Or say nothing at all.
— Fifth, even if a priest is raping children, keep providing him housing and living expenses, although he may be using these resources to facilitate more sexual assaults.
— Sixth, if a predator’s conduct becomes known to the community, don’t remove him from the priesthood to ensure that no more children will be victimized. Instead, transfer him to a new location where no one will know he is a child abuser.
— Finally and above all, don’t tell the police. Child sexual abuse, even short of actual penetration, is and has for all relevant times been a crime. But don’t treat it that way; handle it like a personnel matter, “in house.”
‘Playbook’ in action
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.”
In the Diocese of Greensburg, a priest impregnated a 17-year-old, forged the head pastor’s signature on a marriage certificate, then divorced the girl months later. Despite having sex with a minor, despite fathering a child, despite being married and being divorced, the priest was permitted to stay in ministry thanks to the diocese’s efforts to find a “benevolent bishop” in another state willing to take him on. Another priest, grooming his middle school students for oral sex, taught them how Mary had to “bite off the cord” and “lick” Jesus clean after he was born. It took another 15 years, and numerous additional reports of abuse, before the diocese finally removed the priest from ministry.
A priest in the Diocese of Harrisburg abused five sisters in a single family, despite prior reports that were never acted on. In addition to sex acts, the priest collected samples of the girls’ urine, pubic hair, and menstrual blood. Eventually, his house was searched and his collection was found. Without that kind of incontrovertible evidence, apparently, the diocese remained unwilling to err on the side of children even in the face of multiple reports of abuse. ...
The Diocese of Scranton also chose to defend its clergy abusers over its children. ... In (one) case, a priest raped a girl, got her pregnant, and arranged an abortion. The bishop expressed his feelings in a letter:
“This is a very difficult time in your life, and I realize how upset you are. I too share your grief.” But the letter was not for the girl. It was addressed to the rapist.
... We came across a file in which the diocese candidly conceded that “this is one of our worst ones” — but of course told no one about him. Actually we came across the same statement in the files of several other priests. Then there was the file with a simple celebratory notation: “bad abuse [Victim] sued us ... we won.”
During the course of this investigation, the Grand Jury uncovered a ring of predatory priests operating within the Diocese (of Pittsburgh) who shared intelligence or information regarding victims as well as exchanging the victims amongst themselves. This ring also manufactured child pornography on Diocesan property, including parishes and rectories. This group included: (George) Zirwas, Francis Pucci, Robert Wolk, and Richard Zula. This group of priests used whips, violence and sadism in raping their victims.
... (A victim named) George recalled that each of these priests had a group of favored boys who they would take on trips. The boys received gifts; specifically, gold cross necklaces. George stated, “He (Zirwas) had told me that they, the priests, would give their boys, their altar boys or their favorite boys these crosses. So he gave me a big gold cross to wear.” The Grand Jury observed that these crosses served another purpose beyond the grooming of the victims: They were a visible designation that these children were victims of sexual abuse. They were a signal to other predators that the children had been desensitized to sexual abuse and were optimal targets for further victimization. ...
When (now-Cardinal Donald) Wuerl presided over Zirwas’ funeral, he stated, among other things, that “a priest is a priest. Once he is ordained, he is a priest forever.”
A ‘positive reference’
In 2002, a victim, then aged thirty-seven, married, and the father of two children, contacted the Diocese (of Allentown) 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. ...
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. ...
Ganster was placed on sick leave at the end of 1987 and sent to St. John Vianney Hospital (a behavioral health treatment facility for clergy) 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. ... Ganster wrote the Diocese indicating he would be seeking employment at Walt Disney World and hoped to use the Diocese as a reference. ...
Despite knowing Ganster was a sexual predator, Monsignor (Anthony) 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.
‘Anything is possible’
In a letter dated May 1, 2007, (Harrisburg) Bishop Kevin C. Rhodes informed the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith of complaints that (Rev. Francis A.) Bach sexually abused minors. Rhodes attached multiple exhibits to the letter. The first report of abuse concerning Bach occurred in 1994. A man reported that in 1969, when he was 13 years old, Bach invited him to his boat in Maryland. They went to sleep in separate beds on the boat. The then-boy woke to Bach stroking his penis. The man stated the sexual abuse included kissing and oral sex. The man also reported Bach took Polaroid pictures of his naked body.
Father Paul Helwig interviewed Bach. Bach did not admit, nor deny the allegation concerning the boat incident. When asked if there were other situations like this one with the boy discussed above, Bach admitted there were. Bach stated he recognized his situation was a “timebomb”; he was willing to leave active ministry, but he did not request laicization.
The Diocese issued Bach a penal precept and sent Bach to be evaluated at St. John Vianney Center. A Diocesan document summarizing his treatment stated Bach admitted to sexually abusing 14 victims, between 14 and 16 years old.
In 2002, the Diocese of Harrisburg learned that Bach abused another victim, whose identity at that time was unknown. This victim stated Bach sexually abused him in the 1970’s on Bach’s boat in Maryland and in the Cathedral parish in Harrisburg. ... This victim died in 2004.
In 2007, the Diocese received an e-mail from another man. When this man was in the fifth or sixth grade, he was sexually abused three times. The then-boy was 12 years old during the first incident when Bach touched him inappropriately while staying in a motel.
The second incident of abuse also occurred in a motel. The boy swam in the motel’s pool. When he returned to the motel room, he removed his swimsuit and was naked. He turned to find Bach was also naked. Bach wrestled with the boy, which led to Bach attempting to anally penetrate the boy.
When the boy was 17 years old, Bach took him to his boat in Maryland. Bach gave him alcohol and attempted to anally penetrate the boy.
In 2007, Bishop Rhoades sent a summary of Bach’s sexually abusive behavior to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Rhoades wrote that he did not believe there was a need for any trial or process, judicial or administrative. Bach was living his life in “basic solitude, doing good when he can,” and “spending time in prayer and penance, trying to make reparation for the harm he has caused others through his acts of sexual abuse that occurred early in his priesthood.” Rhoades also stated, “[f]urthermore, the true reason Francis Bach left all priestly ministry is unknown to others. If his case is now brought to trial or given any kind of publicity, I fear it will cause scandal to many, as he is still a priest who is beloved by many in our diocese.” The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith agreed with Rhoades.
In 2009, another man came forward and reported to the Diocese that he was abused by Bach. The then-boy was between 9 and 13 years old when Bach took him to a motel to stay overnight. Bach directed the boy to remove his clothes. The boy complied and undressed to his underwear. Bach photographed the boy in his underwear. Bach then removed his clothes and wrestled with the boy. Bach fondled the boy and anally penetrated the boy. Afterwards, the boy showered and Bach fondled the boy’s penis again.
The Diocese interviewed Bach about this allegation in 2009. Bach stated he could not remember the incidents raised by the victim in 2009. Bach stated, “with my history, anything is possible. I’m not saying he is fabricating the story.”
In 2016, the Diocese received a phone call from another man. This man was an altar boy at St. Patrick in York in 1960. He stated that he was eight years old when Bach fondled him.
(Note: Bach served as the Catholic Church’s campus minister at Millersville University in 1971.)
In July of 1991, a woman reported that Father James Beeman sexually abused her daughter at St. Columbia in Bloomsburg from 1961 to 1964. When her daughter was eight years old, the mother remembered seeing blood in her daughter’s underwear. The daughter reported to the Diocese of Harrisburg in September 1991 that Beeman sexually assaulted her four times from 1961 to 1973. The daughter reported the following information, which was documented in a Diocesan summary of all allegations against Beeman:
1) In catechism class, Beeman set up a projector to show films and held the daughter on his lap and touched her inappropriately;
2) At age seven, the daughter had her tonsils removed and she was recovering in the hospital. Beeman raped her when he visited the hospital room;
3) At age 13, he came to her house when her parents were away. He raped her at her house;
4) At age 19, the abuse continued. Beeman raped her when she was pregnant;
5) Due to the constant abuse by Beeman, the daughter considered suicide.
Beeman was confronted about the allegations in October 1991. He admitted the sexual abuse of this victim. He was issued a penal precept that revoked any priestly faculties. In February 1992, the Diocese sent Beeman for an assessment. Diocesan officials summarized his treatment and included the following:
1) From 1953 to 1958, Beeman sexually abused a girl, who was age six to 12 during that time frame, by fondling her genitals on two to three occasions;
2) In 1968, he fondled the genitals of a six year old girl, approximately three to four times;
3) In 1972, he fondled the genitals of a 6 year old girl twice.
In 2002, the victim from the 1953 to 1958 sexual abuse came forward and reported her molestation. She stated Beeman kissed her and fondled her genitals. The Diocese spoke with Beeman regarding the victim’s allegations from 1953 to 1958. Beeman admitted to the allegations and stated he had a “deep love” for this victim. He stated she was “still in my mind; I guess I am still in love with her.” He kept pictures of this victim. ... He admitted to Diocesan officials that he sexually abused seven young girls while a practicing priest in the Diocese of Harrisburg. In September 2014, Bishop Ronald Gainer submitted Beeman’s acts to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for final resolution. Bishop Gainer wrote, “I believe that the scandal caused by his admission of the sexual abuse of minor girls has been sufficiently repaired by his acceptance of the penal precepts.” The Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith responded that the Dicastery carefully and attentively studied the facts for review and decided Beeman was to live a life of prayer and penance.
In November 2016, another woman came forward and stated that when she was a child Beeman forced his tongue down her throat while having her sit on his lap.
(Note: Beeman began his career as a priest at St. Mary’s Church in Lancaster.)
A bishop’s query
In 1994, Father Paul Helwig wrote to (Harrisburg) Bishop Nicholas Dattilo regarding a man’s allegation that (Monsignor Robert) Maher committed sexual abuse. Dattilo wrote:
Is there anything in his file? Monsignor is dead and can’t defend himself Are we in the situation of having to treat and/or support everyone who makes an allegation? To what extent? +NCD
The man who made the report in 1994 stated Maher kissed him, touched him in an “immodest” way, and performed oral sex on him to the point of ejaculation. The then-boy was in sixth or seventh grade. This abuse occurred sometime during Maher’s assignment at St. Vincent (1961-1975).
This same man made the same reports to the Diocese in 1997, 2002 and 2007.
In 1997, a Secular Franciscan Brother reported to the Diocese via a letter that as an adult he had sought Maher for counseling. During counseling, Maher hugged him, kissed him on the lips, and “stuck his tongue” in the victim’s mouth.
In 2012, another man reported to the Diocese that Maher had sexually abused him when he was a boy. This was documented in a summary interview written by Father Paul Clark. The then-boy’s mother took him to Maher because she found her son to be “intractably bad.” This boy had to sit on Maher’s lap and he was kissed when he was nine years old.
In 2015, another man’s statement was summarized in an interview report by Diocese of Harrisburg officials. When this boy was 10 years old, he broke his collarbone. Maher commented on the boy’s broken bone and leaned in as to kiss him on the mouth. The boy backed away. During confession, Maher asked this boy if he masturbated, got a “hard on,” and how big was his penis.
A parishioner of St. Vincent wrote a letter in 2015 describing that 15 boys were sexually abused by Maher during his assignment at the parish from 1961 to 1975. The reporting parishioner was interviewed by Diocesan officials. The parishioner was a student at the time of the alleged abuse, essentially the same age of the other boys. The parishioner did not disclose the names of the 15 boys; he stated they had the right to privacy and the right to come forward on their own.
In 2016, another man’s statement was summarized in an interview report by the Diocese.
The man reported that Maher touched the genitals of a seven year old boy; Maher also reportedly performed oral sex on the boy.
(Note: Maher served at St. Peter Church in Columbia in 1940-41 and 1946-60.)
‘Pray about it’
The following information was obtained from a summary written by (Harrisburg) Diocesan officials for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and by a man testifying before the Grand Jury on October 18, 2016.
The man came forward in 1994 and reported he had been sexually molested by Father Guy Marsico while at St. Leo the Great (in Rohrerstown). Marsico asked the boy’s parents for permission for the boy to spend the night at the rectory. The boy’s parents knew he wanted to be a priest and granted permission for the boy to stay overnight. The boy went to the rectory to stay overnight. Marsico had boxes on a spare bed. Marsico told the victim he could not remove the boxes and that he had to sleep in the same bed with Marsico. Marsico made the boy undress. Marsico gave the boy full body massages and touched the boy’s penis. Marsico put his mouth on the boy’s penis. The boy stated that Marsico and he slept together in the same bed overnight. The boy also blacked out for a period of time due to fear. The boy was 13 years old at the time.
The boy disclosed that he told his mother about the abuse when he was 14 years old. His mother did not tell anyone. The boy told his father about the abuse when he was 16 years old. His father did not tell anyone.
The boy felt strong enough to report the abuse to the Diocese of Harrisburg. Diocesan officials confronted Marsico. Marsico admitted to sleeping in the same bed with the boy and giving him massages. Marsico stated that he “brushed his penis aside” when massaging the boy’s stomach and pelvic area. Marsico sent the boy a letter of apology.
The Diocese of Harrisburg agreed to pay for prescription medications and counseling for the boy. The boy later found out that his counselor reported what occurred during his counseling to the Diocese. The boy disclosed that he attempted suicide in 1986.
Marsico admitted to being sexually involved with three other minors while at Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (in Lebanon) and St. Leo the Great. Marsico took a leave of absence and resigned from his parish. He went to the Anodos Center for an evaluation.
Diocesan officials wrote a summary, which stated while at treatment Marsico specifically named his victims. As a result of admitting his sexual abuse, the Diocese issued a penal precept in 1995.
In September 1996, another victim came forward and reported abuse by Marsico. The victim was previously identified during Marsico’s admission. The victim was between fifth and sixth grade when molested by Marsico. Marsico fondled the victim, slept in the same bed naked with the victim, and engaged in oral sex and masturbated the victim.
Marsico requested laicization in 2010. Marsico paid for the first victim’s counseling and prescription medication for a period of time.
Marsico testified before the grand jury on November 9, 2016. ... During his testimony, Marsico confessed to molesting children. A relevant excerpt of Marsico’s testimony follows:
Q: But to be clear, though, while you were engaged in the sexual conduct with these boys, you were admitting the conduct to your confessor, Father Michael Homola?
Q: And he was a parish priest in which parish?
A: He was in various parishes. The last one was St. Philip in Millersville.
Q: And his advice to you certainly was not, you know, call the police and turn yourself in; but it was to essentially pray about it?
A: Pray about it and try to get away from it. Reform your life.
Q: And then you would come back and say, it happened again; and he would say pray about it, reform your life?
A victim’s own story
The abuse from Monsignor (Raymond T.) Schultz (in the Diocese of Pittsburgh) occurred when I first started to serve the early mass. ... Usually, the masses were served by two altar boys. As a child, I didn’t realize that I was the only one serving alone; but now I know why I was. This all started at the end of my seventh grade year. ...
As I look back on this now, I try to figure out when I could have asked someone to help me. There was a time when, after I was abused by Monsignor Schultz ... I had to put my pants back on without underwear because it was almost time for the buses to come take us home. I put my underwear in my pocket ... I can remember my mother asking me as she was doing laundry why my underwear was in my pocket. I told her I put them there because I had tinkled a little in my pants. Really, they were in my pocket because, if I would have taken the time to put them back on, I would have missed my bus and would have had to have called for a ride home. That is the only time that I can remember when I had a chance to get help.
When I look back now, it was made very clear to me that I was a, quote, bad boy, unquote, and would be punished more if I ever told anyone what was happening. Most of these abuses happened after my dad dropped me off for early morning masses. I try to see through a child’s eyes; but as an adult, it is very difficult to look back.