Report details sexual abuse by more than 300 Pennsylvania Catholic priests
Four ‘predator priests’ served within Milford churches at some point
BY ERIKA NORTON
MILFORD — After a two-year statewide investigation, the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office released a grand jury report detailing decades of sexual abuse of children by hundreds of Pennsylvania priests — some of whom served in Milford churches — that has been systematically covered up by the Catholic Church.
The 884-page report says that internal documents from six Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania, including the Diocese of Scranton, show that more than 300 “predator priests” have been credibly accused of sexually abusing more than 1,000 child victims.
“We believe that the real number — of children whose records were lost, or who were afraid ever to come forward — is in the thousands,” the report said.
According to the report, senior church officials knew about the abuse committed by priests, but routinely covered it up to avoid scandal, criminal charges against priests and monetary damages to the dioceses. Priests who committed acts of sexual abuse upon children were routinely shuttled to other parishes, while parishioners were left unaware of sexual predators in their midst.
The grand jury states in the report that a main goal of the church was to cover up the abuses for as long as possible, thereby increasing the unlikelihood that law enforcement could prosecute the priests because the statute of limitations had run out.
“As a consequence of the cover up, almost every instance of abuse we found is too old to be prosecuted,” the grand jury states, except in two instances where priests were charged with sexual assault.
The case of Father Robert N. CaparelliPike County Catholic churches are a part of the Diocese of Scranton. Out of the 301 priests identified as “predator priests,” 59 of them served within the Diocese of Scranton, with seven priests and church officials listed as having served within a Milford Catholic church at some point.
The report highlights several examples of abuses within the Diocese of Scranton to “provide a window into the conduct of past Pennsylvania Bishops and the crimes they permitted to occur on their watch.”
One priest, the Rev. Robert N. Caparelli, served at St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church in Milford from 1981 to 1991. Before being assigned in Milford, documents show that Caparelli was accused of the sexual abuse of at least two young altar boys while serving at the parish of Most Precious Blood in Hazelton in August 1968.
A letter was sent to Bishop J. Carroll McCormick from a Hazleton police officer who reported that Caparelli was “contributing to the delinquency of two altar boys,” two brothers ages 11 and 12. The police officer stated that Caparelli was “demoralizing them in a manner that is not natural for any human that has all his proper faculties.”
A few days later, another parishioner wrote to the bishop about concerns regarding sexual abuse of altar boys by Caparelli. The bishop wrote a secret note that the grand jury obtained from confidential Diocesan archives, which states that the bishop had spoken with Caparelli who “admitted acting too freely with two altar boys.”
The bishop sent Caparelli to the Padua Retreat House, a Catholic retreat in Texas. Church officials dismissed any child sexual abuse as “immaturity” and the bishop ultimately assigned Caparelli to serve in the parish of St. Mary’s in Old Forge in October 1968.
In 1981, Caparelli was appointed head pastor of St. Vincent’s in Milford. In 1985, then-Bishop James Timlin dispatched a memo to all priests, religious and lay personnel of the Diocese of Scranton, explaining that the Pennsylvania Child Protective Services Act required reporting to civil authorities both “actual and suspected cases of child abuse.”
In spite of this mandate, the grand jury report said, Timlin made no report regarding Caparelli’s conduct.
Before the end of 1991, Caparelli was criminally charged for the sexual abuse of a child. Following the charges, Timlin issued a statement on behalf of the Diocese of Scranton which again made no comment regarding the diocese’s preexisting knowledge of Caparelli’s conduct.
On Dec. 17, 1991, Timlin personally took another complaint from a medical doctor, who said that he had been a victim of Caparelli’s when Caparelli had served at St. Mary’s in Old Forge.
The doctor reported that he was 11 or 12 years old when Caparelli “sexually molested” him. The doctor also said there were “other boys involved as well.”
On Dec. 23, 1991, a civil lawsuit was initiated against the diocese for Caparelli’s criminal conduct. The diocese aggressively fought back for years, and Timlin tried to protect the secret archives of the diocese from legal discovery, the grand jury reported.
The lawsuit alleged that a child had been molested from September 1985 through June 1986 in the rectory of Saint Vincent de Paul.
Another letter dated April 6, 1992 was found within the diocesan records written by a retired captain of the Pennsylvania State Police. He stated that in 1974, a high school friend told him that Caparelli was touching the genitals of his son and others.
The captain informed the head pastor and Caparelli that no one wanted to press criminal charges but that Caparelli’s conduct had to change. The head pastor said he would take care of it.
Diocesan records showed that Caparelli was moved from St. Mary’s to serve as a chaplain at the Mercy Center in Dallas in 1974. In 1981, he was transferred to St. Vincent’s as head pastor.
On July 14, 1992, Timlin received yet another complaint about Caparelli, this one alleging that Caparelli had abused 10-, 11- and 12-year-old boys as far back as 1967 at Most Precious Blood parish. The writer indicated that he had knowledge of the abuse because he, his brother, and their friends were all victims.
Over the years, many more victims came forward. Caparelli faced additional charges and ultimately pled guilty to offenses against children and received prison time.
While in prison it was discovered that Caparelli had been HIV-positive for years. Caparelli died in state prison in December 1994.
Timlin and the Diocese of Scranton never fully disclosed the decades of knowledge and inaction that left children in danger and in contact with Caparelli, the grand jury states. The diocese was determined to provide more aid to Caparelli than to his victims, with Timlin even requesting that Caparelli be released from prison to a Catholic treatment facility.
The report contains a full list of the 59 offenders within The Diocese of Scranton and the abuse allegations against each.
ResponseIn response to the report, The Diocese of Scranton released a statement:
“As the community copes with the findings in this report, Bishop Joseph Bambera offers his deepest apologies to the victims who have suffered because of past actions and decisions made by trusted clergymen, to victims’ families, to the faithful of the Church, and to the community at large. No one deserves to be confronted with the behaviors described in the report. Although painful to acknowledge, it is necessary to address such abuse in order to foster a time when no child is abused and no abuser is protected.
The Diocese of Scranton said in their statement that they cooperated fully with the grand jury because of its “firm belief that child sexual abuse cannot be tolerated and must be eradicated from the Church.” The Diocese also said that over the past decade, ongoing improvements have been made to the manner in which abuse allegations are addressed.
“The Diocese of Scranton adheres to a strict zero tolerance policy, immediately informing law enforcement and removing the accused from the community when allegations are brought forth. And while properly handling allegations is critical, the ultimate goal of such efforts is to stop abuse altogether. While the past cannot be changed, the Diocese of Scranton remains dedicated to keeping our children safe from abuse moving forward.”
Grand jury recommendationsIn its report the grand jury recommends several changes to Pennsylvania law, including eliminating the criminal statute of limitations for sexually abusing children. Current law permits victims to come forward until age 50.
The report also recommend creating a “civil window” so older victims may now sue for damages, clarifying penalties for continuing to fail to report child abuse and to specify that Civil Confidentiality Agreements do not cover communications with law enforcement. The grand jury wrote that the Church has used confidentiality agreements as a way to silence abuse victims from speaking publicly or cooperating with law enforcement.
The grand jury proposes a new statute which clearly states that no past or present non-disclosure agreement prevents a victim from talking to police.
The complete report can be found at attorneygeneral.gov/report.
Offenders who served in a Milford church at some point:Joseph P. Bonner June 1981 – June 1982 Pastor at St. Patrick’s, Milford
Joseph W. Bucolo June 1954 – September 1954 St. Patrick, Milford
Robert N. Caparelli June 1981 – September 1991 St. Vincent, Milford
Anthony P. Conmy June 1953 – September 1953 Asst. Pastor at St. Patrick, Milford
Thomas D. Skotek July 1963 – September 1963 St. Patrick, Milford
Robert M. Timchak July 2007 – April 2009 Asst. Pastor, St. Vincent de Paul, Milford
Eric S. Ensey April 2001 – April 2002 Administrator Pro Tempore, St. Patrick, Milford
Clergy abuse hot lineThe Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro said his office "will pursue any information or leads concerning child sexual abuse within these Dioceses, wherever it comes from."
The clergy abuse hot line is 888-538-8541.
Sign up to get our newsletter emailed to you every week!
Enter your email address in the box below.
Select the newsletters you would like to subscribe to.
Click the 'SUBSCRIBE' button.