At least 11 Pennsylvania priests accused of sex abuse travelled to Canada, 4 allegedly abused children here
Nearly a dozen Roman Catholic priests accused of molesting over 1,000 children in Pennsylvania spent time in Canada and in at least 4 cases children were abused here, according to a grand jury report
The allegations are contained in a stunning grand jury report issued Tuesday that revealed how Bishops and other church leaders covered up the abuse of children at the hands ofmore than 300 priests over a period of 70 years in six diocese.
The report contained the names of at least 11 priests with Canadian connections, including four cases where some of their alleged abuse is said to have occurred in Canada.
At least seven of the Pennsylvania priests were sent to the Southdown Institute, a psychiatric facility for priests located in Holland Landing about 65 kilometres north of Toronto. The facility was previously located in Aurora.
Southdown helps those battling depression and addiction and in some cases priests are known to have been treated for sexual abusing children.
Southdown’s CEO Dorothy Heiderscheit said she could not comment on any specific cases citing privacy concerns.
“We continue to pray for all victims that are involved, but anything other than that our information is confidential,” said Heiderscheit.
Father Michael Barletta, allegedly abused children for more than three decades and according to the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report forced them into oral sex, naked massages, digital anal penetration, and mutual masturbation.
The grand jury outlined a summary of abuse allegations, including one incident where two young boys accompanied Barletta on a “retreat” to Toronto where he allegedly sexually assaulted them.
“In the hotel room, Barletta engaged the boys in nude massages, relaxation techniques, fondling, and eventually masturbation,” the grand jury wrote.
Barletta denied any sexual encounter with one of the unidentified victims, but in an April 2012 letter to a Pennsylvania Bishop, Barletta admitted to vacationing with the boys.
From 1975 through 1994, when he was finally dismissed from Cathedral Preparatory School in Erie, Penn., Barletta admittedly abused 25 children and young men, according to the report.
“In 1994, the Diocese listed Barletta as being on sabbatical. He had actually been sent to the Southdown Treatment Center,” the report said, noting that the information was never released publicly. “Barletta was housed, fed and given therapy at Southdown at a significant cost to the parishioners of Erie.”
WATCH: Pennsylvania attorney general says over 300 priests identified in sex abuse report
The report also reveals how warning signs and concerns from church official early on in Barletta’s career.
A 1968 handwritten note from a Bishop said that the priest: “Spends much time in counselling high schoolboys – a small number only.”
And in 1993 a senior priest received a complaint from five fellow priests who worried he be “crossing the line into the private lives of the students at [Cathedral Preparatory].”
“Barletta is known to take pictures inside the boys’ locker room of the kids’ crotch area and that Barletta maintains a book of ‘crotch shots’ in his residence,” the report says. The priests questioned Barletta’s personal vacations with “the good looking boys” and feared if the school ever had a lawsuit about a pedophile “will the 18 years of Father Barletta also come to light?”
Three other Pennsylvania priests also allegedly brought boys to Canada.
According to the report, a victim came forward in 1995 to allege he had been sexually abused by Rev. Theodore Zabowski in the 1970s.
Zabowski wrestled with him, asked him to remove his clothes and fondled him at a church in Pittsburgh, the grand jury wrote. “The male further advised that he and Zabowski took a trip to Canada where they slept in the same bed and Zabowski served him alcohol.”
Zabowski was later placed on administrative leave.
Parishioners of the Diocese of Allentown wrote “multiple letters” to the bishop in the 1980s about Rev. Thomas Kerestus’s relationship with a 16-year-old boy.
“The parishioners were aware that Kerestus would take the boy to and from school daily, had taken the boy on vacations to Canada, Florida, and the New Jersey shore,” the report said.
Other victims later came forward and Kerestus was assessed as having “attributes and behaviours very highly similar to those of known sex offenders.”
He died in 2014.
After Rev. Robert Wolk pleaded guilty in 1990 to sexually abusing altar boys, a prosecutor, John Petit, alleged complained the diocese had provided only “minimal” cooperation.
“Petit also said investigators were looking into more than 200 acts Wolk allegedly committed with one of the youths in Canada, Virginia, Florida and Ohio.”
WATCH: Fallout continues from bombshell report into abusive Catholic priests
The grand jury laid out how several accused priests were removed from ministry, yet senior church officials who protected them remained in office and in some cases even got promotions. Failing to report accused clergy to police and discouraging victims from going to law enforcement were among some of the tactics used.
“They protected their institution at all costs. As the grand jury found, the church showed a complete disdain for victims,” Attorney General Josh Shapiro, said Tuesday in news conference. “The cover-up was sophisticated. And all the while, shockingly, church leadership kept records of the abuse and the cover-up.”
The Vatican said in a statement Thursday that the horrors contained in Pennsylvania grand jury report on clergy sex abuse are “criminal and morally reprehensible.”
“Those acts were betrayals of trust that robbed survivors of their dignity and their faith. The church must learn hard lessons from its past, and there should be accountability for both abusers and those who permitted abuse to occur.”
“Victims should know that the pope is on their side,” the statement said. “Those who have suffered are his priority, and the church wants to listen to them to root out this tragic horror that destroys the lives of the innocent.”
*With a file from the Associated Press
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