Priest Abuse in the Diocese of Harrisburg

First, it was the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.  Then, a grand jury revealed scores of sexual abuse incidents in the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown.  Now, the Diocese of Harrisburg is in the spotlight for priest sexual abuse.

In fact, it was the Altoona-Johnstown grand jury report that led investigators to look into the Diocese of Harrisburg.  The York Daily Record’s investigation compelled diocesan officials to reveal details about 15 priests accused of sexual abuse.

Founded in 1868, the Diocese of Harrisburg is located in central Pennsylvania.  Until now, it had not been the focus of clergy sex abuse.  That changed with the YDR investigation.  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 investigation revealed 15 priests accused of sexual abuse of children, including 8 who were never named publicly through the diocese or the media.

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.

Undoubtedly, this is the tip of the iceberg.  The attention will reveal more names of priests and more survivors will come forward.  Perhaps another grand jury will be convened.  One thing is for certain-the Diocese of Harrisburg failed to protect children and allowed predator priests to harm them.


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