Know the Numbers: Child Sexual Abuse in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania has had its share of child sexual abuse scandals over the years.
The state has seen:
- the conviction of Jerry Sandusky, a former Penn State assistant football coach, for sexually abusing boys;
- two grand jury reports on child sexual abuse in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia;
- the first-ever conviction of a high-ranking Catholic official (Msgr. William J. Lynn) for covering up child abuse;
- the indictment of three Franciscan friars on charges of covering up child abuse;
- a grand jury report that revealed the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown covered up abuse by some 50 church officials.
In 2015 alone, the state confirmed 1,960 reports of child sexual abuse — up 220 reports from the previous year, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services.
The number jumps to 40,590 when considering all reports of suspected child abuse — sexual and otherwise — in 2015.
Overall, the state received 11,317 more reports of child abuse in 2015 than it had the previous year. All but one of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties saw an uptick in child abuse reports from 2014 to 2015.
Authorities verified 4,203 — or 10.4 percent — of all child abuse reports in 2015, an increase of 863 reports from 2014. The 2015 reports involved 4,895 perpetrators and 4,032 children.
Of the 4,203 substantiated reports of child abuse in Pennsylvania:
47% involved sexual abuse;
61% involved girls;
39% involved boys;
7% involved children who had been abused before.
Pennsylvania Clergy Accused of Sex Crimes
Sexual abuse, child sexual abuse and online solicitation of a detective posing as a minor — these are among the crimes included in the BishopAccountability.org database of publicly accused priests in Pennsylvania.
Victims who came forward in 2013 or earlier publicly accused at least 293 priests of sexual crimes. The following table shows the number of priests publicly accused in the different church districts across the state.
Priests Publicly Accused in Pennsylvania
|Diocese of Allentown||23|
|Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown||41|
|Diocese of Erie||11|
|Diocese of Greensburg||6|
|Diocese of Harrisburg||10|
|Archdiocese of Philadelphia||136|
|Diocese of Pittsburgh||42|
|Diocese of Scranton||24|
A 2016 grand jury also publicly named priests who were accused of sexually violating children in Pennsylvania. The priests include:
Monsignor Francis Ackerson: Francis Ackerson is alleged of sexually abusing a 15-year-old boy between 1955 and 1956 at the St. Mary’s Orphanage Building in Cresson, Pennsylvania. At the time, Ackerson was a parish priest at St. John’s and St. Mary’s Church, also in Cresson. The victim reported the incident to a different priest and then to his parents, who informed Bishop Richard Guilfoyle, who was the bishop from 1936 to 1957. The parents never got a response. Ackerson continued in ministry as a priest in the diocese for decades.
Father David Arsenault: David Arsenault allegedly sexually abused a teen while he was a priest at St. Joseph’s Church in Renovo, Pennsylvania. The victim twice attempted suicide. Arsenault remained in the ministry.
Father Joseph Bender: An investigative grand jury concluded that Joseph Bender was a serial child predator who abused children throughout the majority of his ministry within the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown. Bender allegedly favored certain boys, who were referred to as “Benderites” by other children. Bender’s victims spanned from 8 to 13 years of age.
Child Sexual Abuse Probe in Pennsylvania Churches & Schools
Six of Pennsylvania’s eight Catholic dioceses received subpoenas around fall 2016 related to a child sexual abuse probe by a statewide investigative grand jury. The dioceses include: the Diocese of Erie, the Diocese of Greensburg, the Diocese of Pittsburg, the Dioceses of Scranton, the Dioceses of Harrisburg and the Dioceses of Allentown.
The grand jury did not subpoena the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown because the state’s attorney general’s office had already released a grand jury report on that region. The Archdiocese of Philadelphia is not included in the latest investigation either.
Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown
In the administrative office of the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown, investigators found boxes and filing cabinets filled with details of children being sexually abused by the institution’s own members. A filing cabinet marked “Confidential Litigation Files” held four drawers of files for priests who were accused of sexual misconduct. Another filing cabinet branded the same had just as many files labeled with victims’ names.
The some 115,042 documents hidden in the office included sexual abuse victims’ statements, letters from sexual abuse victims, correspondence with offending priests and internal correspondence — all detailing an institutional crisis of child sexual abuse. These details became public in a grand jury report in 2016.
The grand jury documented child sexual abuse by at least 50 different priests or religious leaders within the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown and revealed the diocese engaged in an extensive cover-up. Members of the church victimized hundreds of children and thousands more were at risk.
In the diocese, “sick leave” and “nervous exhaustion” meant an offending priest was moved to another location following a claim of child molestation. The diocese returned priests to ministry knowing they were child predators. When questioned during the grand jury proceedings, the predators all said it was the first time any law enforcement official had questioned them.
“Bishops James Hogan and Joseph Adamee failed to protect children entrusted to their care and guidance. Worse yet, these men took actions that further endangered children as they placed their desire to avoid public scandal over the wellbeing of innocent children,” the grand jury report said.
Sadly, the release of the grand jury report in 2016 was not the first time the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown faced public scrutiny over child sexual abuse allegations. In the 1990s the church was at the heart of a child abuse scandal involving Diocesan Priest Francis Luddy.
Franciscan order in Hollidaysburg
In March 2016, Pennsylvania’s attorney general charged three former leaders of a Franciscan order in Hollidaysburg with endangering the welfare of children and criminal conspiracy. The former leaders — Giles Schinelli, Robert D’Aversa and Anthony Criscitelli — allegedly knew of child sex abuse allegations dating back nearly 40 years against Brother Stephen Baker, who killed himself in 2013. Investigators say records from the religious order show the leaders knew Baker had been accused of child sexual abuse before he was allowed to work at Bishop McCort Catholic High School in Johnstown, where he was later accused of molesting more than 80 children.
Archdiocese of Philadelphia
Multiple grand jury investigations have uncovered allegations of sexual abuse against hundreds of Archdiocese of Philadelphia priests that church officials never reported to law enforcement. As a result, prosecutors have charged three priests and a Catholic school teacher. They also brought charges against the archdiocese’s secretary of clergy. The Archdiocese of Philadelphia is Pennsylvania’s largest diocese. It serves Philadelphia, Bucks, Chester, Delaware and Montgomery counties.
Diocese of Erie
Special agents from Pennsylvania’s attorney general’s office served a search warrant at the offices of the Diocese of Erie in November 2016 in connection with a statewide probe of child sex abuse by clergy. Just two months prior, an investigating state grand jury subpoenaed the diocese’s bishop, Lawrence T. Persico, “to provide information related to past and present allegations of sexual abuse of children in the diocese.”
In 2004, the Erie-based diocese, which covers 13 counties in northwestern Pennsylvania, released data that showed 20 priests had been credibly accused of sexually abusing minors since 1950. The allegations involved 38 victims.
Diocese of Allentown
In September 2016, news broke that the Diocese of Allentown had been named in a statewide grand jury investigation into allegations of child sexual abuse. About the same time, a monsignor in the diocese, John Mraz, was removed from ministry and charged with child pornography possession. Mraz was pastor of St. Ann’s Church in Emmaus. The diocese ministers to about 265,000 Catholics in Berks, Carbon, Lehigh, Northampton and Schuylkill counties.
Diocese of Harrisburg
The Diocese of Harrisburg said in September 2016 that it had been subpoenaed as part of a state grand jury investigation into child sexual abuse claims. Almost a decade earlier in 2007, the diocese publicly said it had received allegations against 24 priests since 1950. The diocese makes funding available to survivors of child sexual abuse for counseling, medical treatment and other support. It has spent about $3.4 million since 1950 as part of settlement agreements and for therapy, among other things, according to a York Daily Record report.
Diocese of Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh Bishop David Zubik said the diocese received a subpoena from the state sometime in September 2016. In it, the state asked for any documents related to abuse by priests dating to 1947. Zubik said the diocese was cooperating with the investigation. The Pittsburgh diocese had a zero-tolerance approach to priest sex abuse long before it became the national standard in 2002. It developed its first formal policy related to abusive priests in the late 1980s. Then in 1992, it adopted a more exhaustive policy.
Dioceses of Scranton
In April 2016 — just months before the Diocese of Scranton received a subpoena related to a statewide child sexual abuse investigation — the diocese removed the Rev. Martin M. Boylan as pastor of St. Patrick’s Parish in West Scranton and episcopal vicar for the Northern Pastoral Region. Boylan was accused of sexually abusing a minor.
Another Scranton priest, the Rev. William Jeffrey Paulish, pleaded guilty to a felony count of corruption of minors and was sentenced to eight to 23 months in Lackawanna County Prison for meeting a 15-year-old boy for a sexual encounter in 2014. Paulish, who was an assistant pastor at Prince of Peace Parish in Old Forge, was moved to new locations 15 times during his 25 years as a priest, mostly in Luzerne County.
Diocese of Greensburg
Bishop Edward C. Malesic became the fifth bishop of the Diocese of Greensburg in April 2015. A year later he told the Pittsburg Post-Gazette that he had reviewed all of the diocese’s files on accused priests and found no credible accusations against those serving in active ministry. Malesic added that a grand jury would have the same finding as he did. A statewide investigative grand jury in September 2016 subpoenaed the diocese in connection with a child sex abuse probe.
Prominent Pennsylvania Clergy
Bishops of Pennsylvania’s church districts are among the prominent religious figures who have been pulled into the Catholic Church’s child sexual abuse scandal. These leaders include:
Mark L. Bartchak, Bishop of Altoona-Johnstown
The Most Rev. Mark Leonard Bartchak, the eighth bishop of the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown, was at the diocese’s helm when in 2016 a grand jury report revealed the diocese had engaged in an extensive cover-up of child sex abuse by as many as 50 priests. Bartchak cooperated with the grand jury’s investigation, and following the report’s release, he urged victims to call the attorney general’s hotline.
Lawrence T. Persico, Bishop of Erie
The Most Rev. Lawrence T. Persico, bishop of Erie, is among the church’s leaders who have opposed legislation that would allow survivors of child sexual abuse to retroactively sue the church in civil court. Persico was subpoenaed in September 2016 “by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s statewide investigating grand jury to provide information related to past and present allegations of sexual abuse of children in the diocese.”
Edward C. Malesic, Bishop of Greensburg
Following the release of the grand jury report on the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown, Edward C. Malesic, bishop of Greensburg, published a letter on the diocese’s website. In it, he called the offending clergy’s behavior “unconscionable.” He also said the grand jury report “makes it clear that the investigative process was not an attempt to denigrate the good and noble faith of our Catholic Church.”
Ronald W. Gainer, Bishop of Harrisburg
In an August 2016 newspaper column, the Most Rev. Ronald W. Gainer, the eleventh bishop of Harrisburg, called the sexual abuse of children “an appalling sin and a crime.” He said the diocese has a well-established zero-tolerance policy for clergy and that “no one in active ministry in [the diocese] has a credible accusation of abuse against them.” He encouraged anyone who may have experienced abuse to come forward.
Joseph C. Bambera, Bishop of Scranton
The Most Rev. Joseph C. Bambera, bishop of Scranton, publicly voiced concern in 2014 about a priest accused of child molestation who rose to the No. 2 position in a Paraguayan diocese. Rev. Carlos Urrutigoity was suspended from his ministry in the Diocese of Scranton after allegations he sexually molested students at St. Gregory’s Academy. Following a highly publicized lawsuit in Scranton in 2002, Urrutigoity was transferred to Canada before reemerging in Paraguay. In his 2014 remarks, Bambera defended the actions of the Scranton diocese and his predecessor and urged anyone who suspected, witnessed or suffered abuse by Urrutigoity to report it to authorities. Urrutigoity was ultimately removed from his position in Paraguay.
Helping Pennsylvania Victims Heal
Child sexual abuse affects survivors long after the abuse stops. Survivors of this heinous crime are at greater risk for psychological disorders and may suffer from:
- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
- Substance abuse
- Relationship problems
Unfortunately, most survivors never tell of their childhood sexual abuse. They may feel they are responsible for the abuse or worry people won’t believe them.
It’s not your fault. We believe you.
Our team has witnessed the significance of legal empowerment in the healing process. By filing a claim, you can unmask perpetrators, bring attention to this widespread issue and inspire other survivors to come forward.
Survivors of childhood sexual abuse in Pennsylvania can file civil lawsuits before they are 30 years old and criminal cases before they turn 50. We can provide you with the skilled and compassionate legal help you need to find relief.
Child Sex Abuse Resources in Pennsylvania
Trust your instincts — if you suspect a child is being abused, report it.
To report suspected child abuse in Pennsylvania, call CHILDLINE at 1-800-932-0313 or the Department of Human Services Child Abuse Hotline at 215-683-6100. If a child is in immediate danger, call 911.
If you are not sure what to do, you can speak with a trained counselor who can answer your questions and help you feel more comfortable with your decision. Resources for counseling and other health services include:
The Philadelphia Children’s Alliance: The Philadelphia Children’s Alliance (PCA) partners with the Philadelphia Police Department’s Special Victims Unit, the Department of Human Services, the District Attorney’s Office, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, the Support Center for Child Advocates, Women Organized Against Rape, and the JJ Peters Institute to help children quickly get the help they need. PCA provides crisis counseling and education about the investigative process. It also offers referrals for support groups as well as medical or mental health attention.
Children’s Crisis Treatment Center: With a staff of more than 400, Children’s Crisis Treatment Center (CCTC) works with over 2,400 children and families annually. CCTC provides behavioral health services and addresses the impact of child abuse. CCTC will meet with children and their families at the center, in schools and in the community.
Safe Place: The Center for Child Protection and Health: Safe Place: The Center for Child Protection and Health provides medical assessments, physical and behavioral treatment, and therapeutic services to children and families where there is known or suspected child sexual abuse. The staff is made up of physicians, psychologists, social workers and other hospital personnel.
Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh Child Advocacy Center: The Child Advocacy Center at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC provides comprehensive evaluations for children and teens who may be victims of sexual abuse. The staff of physicians, nurses, advocacy specialists, forensic interviewers, social workers and therapists offers many services, including forensic interviews, psychosocial history-taking, medical examinations, support service referrals and behavior therapy.
Children’s Advocacy Center of Northeastern Pennsylvania: Children’s Advocacy Center of Northeastern Pennsylvania has helped more than 12,000 victims of child sexual abuse. The center’s services include medical exams and assessments, forensic interviews, professional consultation, trauma therapy and counseling coordination.
Start Healing Now
To speak with one of our trusted team members, call or fill out a form. All consultations are confidential and free of charge.
- Goodstein, L. (2016, April 4). As Pennsylvania Confronts Clergy Sex Abuse, Victims and Lawmakers Act. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/05/us/pennsylvania-clergy-sex-abuse.html
- Pennsylvania Department of Human Services. (n.d.). Annual Child Protective Services Report. Retrieved from http://www.dhs.pa.gov/cs/groups/webcontent/documents/document/c_226999.pdf
- BishopAccountability.org. (n.d.). Database of Publicly Accused Priests in the United States. Retrieved from http://bishop-accountability.org/priestdb/PriestDBbydiocese.html#PA
- Murphy, J. (2016, March 1). Read the grand jury report on sexual abuse of children by priests (Warning, graphic content). Retrieved from http://www.pennlive.com/politics/index.ssf/2016/03/grand_jury_accuses_priests_in.html
- Esack, S. (2016, September 19). Six of state's eight Catholic dioceses under investigation. Retrieved from http://www.mcall.com/news/nationworld/pennsylvania/mc-pa-allentown-catholic-dioceses-priest-grand-jury-20160916-story.html
- Zauzmer, J. (2016, March 15). In ‘groundbreaking’ case, Franciscan friars charged with allowing abuse of at least 80 kids. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2016/03/15/in-groundbreaking-case-franciscan-friars-charged-with-allowing-abuse-of-at-least-80-kids/?utm_term=.a7900c6bea11
- Esack, S. & et al. (2016, September 16). Grand jury investigating sex abuse in Allentown, Harrisburg dioceses, lawmaker says. Retrieved from http://www.mcall.com/news/local/mc-pa-allentown-diocese-grand-jury-20160915-story.html
- Massing, D. (2016, November 7). Search warrant served on Catholic Diocese of Erie. Retrieved from http://www.goerie.com/news/20161107/search-warrant-served-on-catholic-diocese-of-erie
- Howard, P. (2016, September 18). Pat Howard: Grand jury sets sights on Erie diocese. Retrieved from http://www.goerie.com/opinion/20160918/pat-howard-grand-jury-sets-sights-on-erie-diocese
- Cassi, S. (2016, September 16). Allentown Diocese part of Pa. grand jury probe into child sex abuse. Retrieved from http://www.lehighvalleylive.com/news/index.ssf/2016/09/allentown_harrisburg_catholic.html
- Kessler, B. (n.d.). 15 priests accused of abuse had ties to Harrisburg diocese. Retrieved from http://www.ydr.com/story/news/2016/08/09/15-priests-accused-abuse-had-ties-harrisburg-diocese/83179102/
- Smith, P. (2016, September 16). State subpoenas Diocese of Pittsburgh files on sexual abuse. Retrieved from http://www.post-gazette.com/local/city/2016/09/16/State-subpoenas-Diocese-of-Pittsburgh-files-on-sexual-abuse/stories/201609170083
- Esack, S. (2016, September 18). Scranton among dioceses in sex abuse probe. Retrieved from http://thetimes-tribune.com/news/scranton-among-dioceses-in-sex-abuse-probe-1.2092608
- Smith, P. (2016, April 3). Should grand juries probe other dioceses for handling of sexual abuse?. Retrieved from http://www.post-gazette.com/news/state/2016/04/03/Should-dioceses-use-grand-jury-probes-like-in-the-case-of-the-Diocese-of-Altoona-Johnstown/stories/201604030154
- Diocese of Greensburg. (2016, September 16). Diocese of Greensburg statement about statewide grand jury. Retrieved from http://www.dioceseofgreensburg.org/news/latest/Pages/default.aspx
- Diocese of Greensburg. (2016, March 9). A letter pertaining to the State Attorney General's Report regarding the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown. Retrieved from http://www.dioceseofgreensburg.org/about/Pages/virtus.aspx
- Gainer, R. (2016, August 22). Harrisburg Bishop: 'My heart aches' for abuse victims (column). Retrieved from http://www.ydr.com/story/opinion/columnists/2016/08/22/harrisburg-bishop-my-heart-aches-abuse-victims-column/89095080/
- Mckenna, J. (2014, September 25). Pope Francis fires Paraguay bishop accused of covering up abuse. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/religion/pope-francis-fires-paraguay-bishop-accused-of-covering-up-abuse/2014/09/25/17597f22-44d7-11e4-8042-aaff1640082e_story.html?utm_term=.41155daa12cb
- Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape. (n.d.). Children. Retrieved from http://www.pcar.org/about-sexual-violence/children