Decades before a grand jury report made them public, at least 40 Pennsylvania priests confessed to sex crime against children, often without facing any legal or professional consequences.
Now many won’t ever have to face charges unless Pennsylvania changes state law to extend its statute of limitations. At present, child victims have until age 50 to pursue criminal charges, which requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt to convict, and age 30 — 12 years after they turn 18 — to file a civil suit, according to the Penny, which advocates for sexual-assault victims.
“There’s no doubt victims out there deserve some type of compensation for what happened to them,” said state Rep. Mark Rozzi, a Democrat from Muhlenberg Township who was abused by a priest in the Allentown Diocese when he was a child. “There’s no doubt that the church has put the liability on the victims for way too long.”
In May 2000, a Pittsburgh priest admitted to touching 500 kids and targeting “at least” 1,200 other children. And 15 years later, he was free to target at least one more.
In May 1972, a state trooper saw a different priest sexually abusing a teen boy in a car on the side of the road. He gave the priest “a lecture and sent him on his way.”
That priest, Thomas J. Bender of the Allentown diocese, admitted his abuse to church officials and continued to serve as a priest.
Bender was arrested in 2006 on Long Island, New York, for trying to meet a 14-year-old boy for sex. He was sentenced up to 10 years in prison and lifetime probation. Bender is out of prison now and remains on the sex offender registry in the state of New York.
He’s one of few Pennsylvania priests who faced light prison sentences, ultimately caught by federal prosecutors for child pornography, not the abuses reported to dioceses. And those convicted men still were considered priests when their jail time ended.
The overwhelming majority of the 301 priests included in a grand jury report released Tuesday, collected pensions, health insurance, life insurance and car insurance, retiring late in life, decades after their first admission of guilt.
They had long careers. The dioceses traded them from parish to parish, concealing their crimes safely past the expiration date of when they could be prosecuted. Many of their new assignments included Catholic grade schools, where they were near more children and potential victims.
The list below shows confessions from priests in their own words, based on diocese records, court records and the grand jury report. They are listed alphabetically by diocese: Allentown, Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh and Scranton.
Some admitted to struggling with their secrets for years, saying, “I have lived in fear wondering if anyone would come forward with an allegation,” and “I have failed again.”
Others blamed the victims, saying, “Young girls are pretty and they throw themselves at you,” and “I thought they were asleep.”
And even more saw no flaw in their actions, with one priest admitting abuse of a 21-year-old altar boy with Down syndrome and another admitting abuse of a mentally ill man. Some of the priests described a child pornography collection as “just for fun,” and molestation as “affectionate hugging” and “a gesture of friendliness.”
Here are their words:
The historic report detailed decades of abuse by hundreds of priests. John Buffone, firstname.lastname@example.org
“Yes, I have failed again, but my problem is not so totally out of hand that I cannot with God’s help and Dr. Zanni (therapist Anthony L. Zanni of St. John Vianney Center in Downington, Pennsylvania, a residential program to treat priests with behavioral problems), work to master my situation. Incidentally, prior to now, I had experienced no failure in this matter since 1978.
“I am deeply sorry for letting you down again. You can imagine how hard it is for me to write this letter — especially when you trusted me and released me to the Mount. … I know you want to protect me and I appreciate your concern for me, but I ask you to consider the possibility of my staying at the Mount.”
The Rev. James Gaffney
In grand jury testimony on Sept. 14, 2016, and May 8, 2017, Gaffney said law enforcement never contacted him about his conduct until he received a grand jury subpoena. He admitted to sexual contact with at least one female student.
When a state attorney asked if he had sexual contact with other children as a priest, he answered, “Yes. It is possible.”
The Rev. Joseph Galko
In 1984, Galko told the diocese he had sexual contact with an 18-year-old parishioner. He also confessed to oral sex and “occasional occurrences” with other males dating back to when he entered the seminary. Galko served for 17 more years after that confession and wasn’t dismissed from the priesthood until 2015.
The Rev. Joseph D. Hulko
In September 2003, Hulko admitted to sexually abused a young, female orphan from June to October in 1971 while at St. Francis Orphanage in Orwigsburg. He said he was motivated by “curiosity,” to touch the 14-year-old victim’s breast.
Hulko said that he knew what he did was “wrong” and said, “I’m a priest, and she’s an orphan girl.”
The Rev. Joseph H. Kean
In February 1993, Kean admitted to abusing victims and “apologized for any embarrassment he may have caused.”
The Rev. Joseph A. Rock
In January 1992, Rock admitted to “roughhousing” with young boys and feeling their genitals.
The Rev. David A. Soderlund
In 1996, Soderlund filed a civil suit against the bishop, admitting a “sexual addiction” but claiming that his due-process rights were violated. In 1997, a Lehigh County judge dismissed the lawsuit.
In 2009, Soderlund was arrested, convicted and sentenced to two to five years for sexual exploitation of children and possessing child pornography. He is now out of prison and living as a registered sex offender in Dubois, Wyoming.
The Rev. Henry E. Strassner
In August 1988, Strassner initially denied a 19-year-old victim’s allegation that he kissed him on the lips “in the same way a woman would kiss.” But then he admitted it and said he “did not intend anything sexual.”
Strassner said the victim “was essentially parentless, and I wanted to simply affirm his sense of self-worth.”
The Rev. Bruno M. Tucci
In 1991, Tucci admitted to to tickling a 14-year-old boy and putting his hands down the back of the victim’s pants, unbuttoning the pants and making skin-to-skin contact. Tucci said it was “just touching” and he had not engaged in “sodomy.”
The Rev. Michael G. Barletta
In 1994, Barletta admitted to the bishop that he had abused 25 children and confirmed an allegation of oral sex, naked massages, digital anal penetration and masturbation. The diocese paid for counseling for at least one victim but when the high school freshman told his story to the local newspaper, the bishop advised the victim to seek payment directly from Barletta.
The Rev. Robert F. Bower
This year, the grand jury considered Bower’s testimony an admission of guilt going back to 1981 allegations of collecting child pornography. When the state attorney asked Bower if he had ever had sexual contact with a child younger than 18, Bower said, “What am I supposed to say?” When the prosecutor persisted, Bower said, “I’ll go to jail.”
The Rev. Dennis Chludzinski
In October 2004, when diocese officials confronted him, Chludzinki confirmed allegations.
“Sorry,” he said.
A diocese note said, “On Oct. 6 Dennis Chuldzinski called and admitted sexual involvement with (the victim).”
The Rev. Donald Cooper
In 2005, Cooper admitted to showering with the victim in 1981 and 1982, using a sauna with the 16-year-old boy and giving him massages. But he did not admit to fondling him and masturbating in front of him.
Cooper agreed to retire and no longer be able serve as a priest.
The Rev. Robert E. Hannon
Since at least 1986, Hannon had admittedly abused at least 20 young people between 12 and 19 years old. It is presumed those victims were all males. On May 5, 2004, Hannon denied having ever abused any females stating, “They do not have a penis.”
The Rev. Samuel B. Slocum
Last year during grand jury testimony, Slocum said he had a relationship with a 14-year-old girl in 1980, the same year he also had a relationship with a 16-year-old boy. He testified that he would not call those relationships inappropriate even though he said he did get some sort of emotional or sexual gratification from relationships with children.
VIDEO: Survivors of child sexual abuse from priests share their stories in a video shown before Tuesday’s news conference detailing decades of abuse. Office of Attorney General Josh Shapiro
The Rev. Fabian G. Oris
In 2002, a woman alleged that Oris sexually abused her from age 4 or 5 to about 12 years old and then preyed on one of her younger sisters.
In his admission of guilt, Oris said, “I am deeply sorry. I never thought that it would come to this, but young girls are pretty and they throw themselves at you. You say things and do things. I guess I never meant to hurt anybody.
“Their mother knew,” his diocese file indicated. “She knew that they came to the rectory to sleep overnight.”
The Rev. Gregory F. Premoshis
In March 2002 upon being confronted by church officials, Premoshis admitted to sleeping in the same bed with the victim but denied ejaculating on him. Instead, he said he may have had a “wet dream.”
Premoshis also admitted to becoming aroused while wrestling with the victim. He also admitted to giving gifts to the victim, buying him dinner, supplying him with alcohol and loaning him his vehicle.
The Rev. Roger J. Trott
In 1987, the families of 12 altar boys alleged Trott committed sexual acts on the children.
Trott confessed his sexual motives in a written statement and said on numerous occasions he invited boys and young men on “outings” and to the rectory. Trott acknowledged his sexual motive in these invitations.
One of the victims was a 21-year-old with Down syndrome, who reportedly was hospitalized for “surgery for a blockage of the lower bowel, which the doctors say is directly linked to the incidents with Father Trott.”
The Rev. Francis A. Bach
In 2009, Bach admitted to sexually abusing 14 victims ages 14 to 16 years old. He said his situation was a “time bomb” and he was willing to leave active ministry. When diocese officials interviewed him, he said he couldn’t remember all the incidents in the allegations brought against him.
“With my history, anything is possible. I’m not saying he is fabricating the story,” Bach said.
The Rev. James Beeman
In 2002, Beeman admitted to sexually abusing seven girls, including one abused from 1953 to 1958 whom he said he was still “in love” with.
The Rev. Paul Fisher
In February 2011, Fisher confessed his online searches for pornography that included “incest” and “really sick, abusive stories.” He said sometimes the “son character in the story (or eventually, the brother/sister characters) looked under 18.”
The Rev. George Koychick
In 2003, the diocese asked Koychick about numerous allegations that he abused young girls.
“Yes, it was when I was going through a touchy/feely time in my life,” he said. He described molestation as “sensual rubbing.”
He admitted he felt an attraction to the young girls and the touching was for his own sexual pleasure.
“This is a test of ones (sic) faith. I have prayed over this for years. I have lived in fear for years wondering if anyone would come forward with an allegation,” Koychick said. “I have said more Acts of Contrition than anybody.”
The Rev. Monsignor Robert Maher
In April 1975, Maher submitted his resignation to St. Vincent in Hanover:
“I cannot pretend, nor do you, that this whole experience is without pain. But like surgery it must be endured trusting no metastasis will overtake our spiritual therapy.”
Maher also said, “Most important is that Father Christie has a rather complete knowledge of my personal history.”
The Rev. Herbert Shank
A Dec. 31, 1994, diocese memorandum mentioned a legal obligation to contact the York County district attorney about Shank’s abuses:
“Father Shank said that, if this must be done, it must be done.” Two other priests offered to help and support Shank through this “difficult time” and “both said that they have had experience in matters such as this.”
The Rev. Carl J. Steffen
In May 1966, Steffen was questioned after “several complaints from reputable parents” said he fondled, caressed and touched their sons.
A diocese official said Steffen was in a cold sweat at the end of the questioning. Steffen said sometimes he sat on a couch with the boys and gave them a “gesture of friendliness.”
Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the Archbishop of Washington, faulted in a Pennsylvania grand jury report over his handling of sexually abusive priests as Pittsburgh’s bishop, is asking parishioners not to lose confidence in the church and to help victims. AP
The Rev. Leo Burchianti
In September 2007, Burchianti admitted to sexual contact with John Doe 1 and “wished he could erase his past.”
Burchianti also admitted to being sexually involved with the victim’s mother for 6 to 8 months. He said he and two other priests would take young boys to the seminary pool and brag to one another about them.
The Rev. Charles J. Chatt
In July 1992, Chatt admitted to the sexual contact that began with a 14-year-old victim.
“Chatt states he never felt ‘it’ was wrong, felt it was a service — later felt like their whore.” Diocese records say Chatt was “involved in sexual relationships” with the first victim as well as “five other youngsters under the age of 18 in the 1970s.”
Chatt explained his behavior as the “free spirit” of the time and said the “anything goes” mentality was in “vogue.” He also talked about his “sexual weakness” and the “promiscuity of the adolescent boys involved.”
When Chatt shared concern about possible legal action, the diocese told him the victim’s allegation was “time barred” and no legal action could take place.
The Rev. Richard Deakin
In an undated letter from Deakin to “Most Holy Father,” he said: “During my last year to sixteen months at St. Martins’ I became progressively more sexually involved with a teenage girl in the parish.” He was a deacon at St. Martin Church, now closed, in Baltimore from March 1984 to April 1985 then was ordained and became assistant pastor until June 1987.
“Our physical contact progressed from occasional playful contact to kissing and petting to sexual intercourse,” he wrote. “We both knew that this behavior was inappropriate and wrong.”
He said he “was using this teenage girl to gain a sense of power as well as to feel needed by someone not as a priest but as a man.” Deakin said it was a “very sick relationship” and “no one was aware of the sexual behavior between myself and this teenage girl.”
He said he never told his psychiatrist about his relationship with the victim because he “knew there were legal consequences.”
The Rev. David F. Dzermejko
In April 2013, Dzermejko was arrested for possession of child pornography and told authorities he had been viewing child pornography for more than 10 years. He also admitted to traveling to Thailand to have sexual encounters with teen boys and had gone there that year.
The Rev. John P. Fitzgerald
In August 2014, Fitzgerald told the diocese to tell his male victim’s family that they had one opportunity to recant their statement about abuse from 1996 or else “all hell would break loose, it will be like World War III.” He was not allowed to return to his parish.
The Rev. Edward G. Huff
May 5, 2000, a handwritten note in Huff’s file said Huff, “admitted to touching 500 kids and targeting at least 1200.”
The Rev. Arthur R. Merrell
In September 1997, Merrell admitted to having inappropriately touched a boy younger than 15.
In February 1998, he admitted to a sexual relationship with a mentally ill man. He withdrew from ministry that same month.
The Rev. Paul G. Spisak
In October 1998, Spisak denied having sexual contact with minors or adults but admitted he “has been struggling with the problem of viewing pornography for several years.” He said the inappropriate photographs he took of teen boys on vacation were “just for fun.”
Spisak also acknowledged a sexual attraction to minors as well as to adult men.
In 2006, police caught him recording men in a mall bathroom near Pittsburgh. During questioning, he told police he had a “sexual fixation with the male buttocks.”
The Rev. John William Wellinger
In October 1995, Wellinger admitted to spending a lot of time with the victim but denied consciously touching the victim’s genitals. He said he fell asleep on the floor with the victim and it was “pretty tight quarters” so he may have “unknowingly” touched the victim’s genitals.
The Rev. Robert G. Wolk
In September 1987, Wolk “admitted without hesitation his sexual relationship with two young victims,” according to the grand jury report.
The Rev. William B. Yokey
In May 1991, Yokey admitted to abusing a 16-year-old victim. He also said he was drinking “quite a lot” during his first few years of ministry.
When asked about an 18-year-old victim, Yockey said they were “probably drinking and that it was not impossible and won’t deny it, but he cannot remember it.”
The Rev. Theodore P. Zabowski
In November 1995, Zabowski acknowledged the possibility of inappropriate touching and sharing his bed with boys for “companionship.” That same month, he admitted to “affectionate hugging” of teenage boys. In August 1996, Zabowski admitted the allegations against him “could potentially be true” and that he should not be involved in any relationship with teenage males. In a letter to the bishop on June 26, 2003, Zabowski said “therapy helped him deal with allegations of placing himself with adolescent boys in a sexually inappropriate manner, gave him the ability to deal with and yes, overcome the sexual ignorance and social backwardness of his life.”
More than 300 priests were named in the report, but none face criminal charges. Nate Chute, IndyStar
The Rev. Joseph Bucolo
In January 1971, Bucolo “readily admitted” to abuse allegations against a 10-year-old boy, “insisting that once and once only did he commit an immoral act with the individual. He stated he had never before or since become involved in that way and said he was very sorry.
He claimed that it was in a moment of weakness it had occurred.”
The Rev. Ralph N. Ferraldo
On Valentine’s Day 1986, two staff members from Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center called diocese officials to report that Ferraldo made improper sexual advances against a 23-year-old male patient. Ferraldo admitted to the allegation, saying he did not know “what comes over him.”
The Rev. Austin E. Flanagan
In June 1990, Flanagan admitted to being in sleeping bags with young boys, fondling boys at summer camp and touching young boys.
Flanagan told the diocese, “I thought they were asleep and also I had a lot to drink.” He acknowledged that several other similar instances occurred in the past.