How did church leaders go unnoticed for so long? “Their word was golden”.

Former Philadelphia District Attorney Lynne Abraham said, “It was a different time. You didn’t remonstrate with the guy who’s giving you absolution.” (JOSEPH KACZMAREK / AP)

“The abuse scarred every diocese. The cover-up was sophisticated. The church protected the institution at all costs.” Attorney General Josh Shapiro says that two groups are at fault for allowing abuse to continue; “the Catholic Church hierarchy and law enforcement,  for sometimes working in tandem to keep the accusations from the public”.

Attorney General Josh Shapiro presented a grand jury report that shows decades of child sex abuse by priests in Pennsylvania and identifies 301 predator priests, and said that not only did church leaders fail, but that law enforcement failed as well.

Police allowed offending priests to walk away free for decades. Though the modest number of 1,000 victims the grand jury recounted suffer emotional, mental, and physical complications caused by the abuse throughout their lifetimes. When abuse happens there is a ripple effect that not only influences that abused person’s life.

Abuse is generational. Abused victims carry the memories of what happened to them every where they go. It affects their decision making, their perspectives, their parenting skills, their jobs, and their relationships with family and friends. They develop trust issues that never go away.

Former Philadelphia District Attorney Lynne Abraham says that Pennsylvania police departments are stocked with Catholic police officers  that “knew the priests, but more importantly, she said, the priests knew them”. She said, “It was a different time. You didn’t remonstrate with the guy who’s giving you absolution.”

The Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli says that he thinks the public and law enforcement likely “didn’t want to believe priests would sexually abuse children. These cases in that time period probably would have been very difficult prosecutions, word against word”.

Morganelli was criticized after Stephen T. Forish was acquitted on charges of soliciting sex in 1998 when Monsignor prosecuted the case. “I was criticized big-time for bringing that case”. Eight years later, Forish was again charged with soliciting sex from strangers. He died awaiting trial in that case.

Shapiro, through a spokesman, declined to discuss law enforcement’s role in allowing abusive priests to get away without charges.

One of the most egregious missed opportunities by law enforcement involved the

Rev. Thomas Bender, who served at St. Francis Orphanage in Orwigsburg in 1972 said “the case where a state trooper found Bender with a high school-age boy, both with no pants on, in a car was reported by another trooper, who also was a deacon in the church”.

Monsignor Anthony Muntone’s report to Bishop Thomas J. Welsh of the Allentown Diocese stated that “the first trooper gave Bender a lecture and sent him on his way”. Welsh received another complaint about Bender in 1984.

One victim that Bender repeatedly raped years had to be hospitalized for a drug overdose and psychiatric problems. The church had to pay the civil and criminal complaints. Bender was convicted in 1988 and again in 2006. He is now 84 and lives in the Lower Macungie Township.

Robert Masters  who in 1964 was the Beaver County district attorney took it on himself to block Rev. Ernest Paone’s arrest. Paone molested young boys and illegally used guns with “even younger parishioners,” as early as 1962. Masters wrote in an Aug. 4, 1964, letter to Pittsburgh Diocese Bishop Vincent Leonard, “I have, in order to prevent unfavorable publicity, halted all investigations into similar incidents with other young boys”. Paone was allowed to transfer to dioceses in Nevada and in California even though more complaints were coming in at the time.

Forty-one years later the grand jury found other accusations. The grand jury asked Masters why he deferred to the bishop’s request to keep Paone’s misconduct under wraps. Masters stated, “Probably, respect for the bishop. I really have no proper answer”.

Paone supported Masters political career. In 1989, Masters who is now 87, was hired as solicitor for Beaver County’s Children and Youth Services. He was fired in 2018 when county commissioners learned of his record through the grand jury’s report.

Richard Long, the executive director of the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association says, “It’s not acceptable for a district attorney or anyone in law enforcement to be overly deferential to any institution or any group,”

Carbon County District Attorney Richard Webb, who died in 2016, refused to prosecute Rev. David Soderlund who was instead assigned to posts outside of Carbon County. While serving at St. Joseph’s in Summit Hill during the 1980s, the Allentown Diocese received three complaints about Soderlund. One investigation revealed findings of child pornography, “including an image of Soderlund masturbating a 12-year-old boy”. Master “had assured him if the parents would not make an issue of the matter, he would not prosecute”.

Soderlund was sent to Our Lady of Hungary in Northampton, which has an elementary school. In 1987 he was accused of soliciting sex from young boys again. Soderland was removed from ministry in 1989 and the priesthood in 2005He moved to Wyoming where he was arrested for possession of child pornography in 2009. He was sentenced to two to five years in prison.

In 1978 the prosecutor allowed a diocesan attorney to intimidate a mother and her two children that were sexually molested by Rev. Anthony Cipolla of the Pittsburgh Diocese. The woman said, “They’re pushing the district attorney around or this guy is ignoring the district attorney, and the district attorney is not sticking up for us. He isn’t telling them, you know, Hey, don’t talk to them kids like that or Don’t talk to that woman like that. He just let him say whatever he wanted to do, and he did. And he intimidated us really bad.” Out of fear because of the intimidation the woman dropped the charges against Cipolla.

Cipolla went on to abuse more children. Current Beaver County District Attorney David J. Lozier said he believes the complaint came when the case was beyond the statute of limitations.

“Terry McKiernan, a director of maintains a database of accused clergy. His notes show that from a 1967 phone call uncovered during the 2002 investigation into the Diocese of Manchester, N.H. a Catholic police chief leaving his job urged the church to remove a problem priest, Donald Osgood, who hadn’t been charged. The chief feared “the whole thing might blow sky high” if a non-Catholic chief succeeded him, the notes say.” Osgood was named in at least four civil lawsuits that later were settled.

“The bishops spend a lot of time schmoozing with the people in power who can help them or hurt them” McKiernan said. “Reports like these give a feel for the hand-washes-hand kind of thing that really was going on.” The 2016 grand jury report on the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese noted several instances in which law enforcement took the side of the church over priests’ victims.

“Jurors learned of a serial predator, Monsignor Francis McCaa, through a 985 meeting between then-Bishop James Hogan and the county district attorney’s office where Hogan agreed to send McCaa for treatment followed by a reassignment. McCaa, who died in 2007, was reassigned to serve as a hospital chaplain in Martinsville, W.Va. As the grand jury looked further into McCaa’s case, it learned that Cambria County Judge James T. Kiniry, then an assistant prosecutor in the district attorney’s office, carried out the deal with Hogan.” Says Tim Darragh of The Morning Call.

In 2016, Kiniry said “the church was given more authority over its members back then”. “You have to understand this is an extremely Catholic county. … Back then, the diocese moved the problem. That’s just how it was”.

Cardinal John Krol’s office managed to keep a police detective from reporting that Rev. Francis X. Trauger sexually assaulted Krol’s own 14-year-old son in 1982. The cardinal’s assistant said, “Convinced of our sincere resolve to take the necessary action regarding Fr. T., [the victim’s father] does not plan to press any charges, police or otherwise”.

“The asset these guys had was their word was golden,” Morganelli said. “They don’t have that anymore.”

Related Article: Church leaders protected the church for decades, not the children. Nebraska AG now releasing a report.

Minding Hearts is building advocacy and peer support groups, “Hearts and Minds” in each state. The groups are created to raise awareness, educate, and advocate for those that might not otherwise be heard. We are here for encouragement, education, and support. We cannot give legal advice, but we can try and direct you in the right direction with your case. Links to legal services are listed with their states. Please share and let’s grow our groups. We are here to support families and develop resources that maintain family integrity. We look forward to your support. If you would rather become active by donating, then visit the donation page. Thank you.

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