Report: Police, DA's office, received evidence of York City priest abuse
A priest assigned to a York City church who was the subject of sexual abuse allegations never faced charges, despite the fact that the allegations were reported to local authorities, according to a grand jury report.
A grand jury report released this week states the York County district attorney and York City Police were notified more than 10 years ago of sexual abuse allegations made against the Rev. Herbert Shank when he was assigned to St. Rose of Lima Church.
There is no record of charges being filed for Shank.
Shank is one of about 300 men named in the roughly 800-page report released Tuesday, Aug. 14, by state Attorney General Josh Shapiro. Forty-five men mentioned in the report were assigned in the Diocese of Harrisburg, and 19 of them were assigned to York County churches at some point.
In the report, many of the allegations were not reported to authorities at the time. However, Shank's abuse allegations were reported to both the York County District Attorney's Office and city police in early 1995, according to the report.
It is unclear why charges were not filed.
No charges: Current DA Dave Sunday released a statement Wednesday, Aug. 15:
"We find the information contained in the Attorney General’s grand jury report highly disturbing and the acts detailed therein reprehensible. Like many of you, we are just receiving this information and are in the process of reviewing each of the alleged incidents that occurred in York County, as detailed in the report. We will conduct this investigation with due diligence, as we do with all matters that come before us.
"When additional information is gathered, we will certainly release that information in accordance with the Criminal History Records Information Act (CHRIA), Pennsylvania’s Right to Know Law (RTK) and our ethical duties as prosecutors."
According to the grand jury report, the Harrisburg Diocese turned over "photographic negatives and videotape cassettes" to the local DA's office.
Negatives of pictures of young boys in their midteens, including shots of genitalia, were found in Shank's room, according to authorities.
The diocese disclosed the name of one of the victims in the photographs, and the diocese offered to assist in identifying others, according to officials.
The Attorney General's Office spoke to York City Police in 2017 about the Shank investigation, and an officer familiar with it said Shank recorded himself assaulting young boys and saved the recordings on VHS tapes, the report states. The recordings, according to authorities, were spliced into the middle of recorded shows.
That officer told the AG's office that the victim made it clear he wouldn't testify and that the diocese "shipped Shank out of the area," according to officials.
It is unclear why charges were never filed by York City Police. A message left for current York City Police Chief Troy Bankert seeking comment the morning of Thursday, Aug. 16, was not immediately returned.
Reports of abuse: Shank, who was born in 1941, was with the diocese from 1967 until 1994. He was assigned to St. Rose of Lima from 1984 until 1994, before taking a leave of absence.
According to the grand jury report, a boy alleged Shank molested him and six other boys.
That boy told authorities that Shank took him on trips and that he would stay at the parish overnight. One night at the rectory, Shank showed the boys a box full of half-naked photographs of other boys his age, the report states.
That boy recognized one of the boys in the photo as an altar boy, according to officials. Shank requested a leave of absence after the allegation was made.
'Hundreds of photographs': After that, a maintenance man reported to the diocese that Shank had a relationship with a minor, authorities said. The report states that the man also told the diocese he had knowledge of disturbing photographs of minor boys, the report states.
A memorandum written by the Rev. Paul Helwig to Shank's case file noted that the maintenance man was not Catholic, the report states. Helwig wrote that a second maintenance man, who had knowledge of the photos, had a prior history of alcohol abuse, according to authorities.
Another clergyman reported to the diocese he found hundreds of pictures of young boys in drawers in Shank's room at the rectory, the report states. He also found negatives of the young boys — the negatives that were eventually handed over to the DA's office, according to authorities.
That clergyman, the Rev. Leo Goodman, wanted to allow the victim, one of the altar boys, to pack up the photos of himself, although he would not be allowed to keep them, the report alleges.
Goodman allowed the victim to gather Shank's belongings, and when the priest left the room briefly, the victim took the negatives from Shank's room, according to authorities.
Additionally, the diocese removed VHS tapes that Shank had in his "collection," officials said.
Prior abuse: In December 1994, a man reported that between 1971 and 1974, Shank molested him, according to officials. Shank was assigned to a church in Hershey at the time.
The report states that the man met Shank when the man was an altar boy. Shank took the victim and other boys to drive-in movies, out swimming, on field trips and to other states, according to authorities.
Officials said he took the victim to different places alone, and Shank gave him massages, which led to overnight stays with the victim that included naked rubdowns and kissing.
The report states he took photographs of the victim's genitals and took photos of him performing oral sex on the victim. The victim said this happened when he was younger than 16, according to the report.
The victim received an apology letter from Shank in 1998, officials said.
On Dec. 31, 1994, Helwig wrote a memorandum to Nicholas Dattilo, then the bishop of the Harrisburg Diocese, and said he had a conference call with Shank and others regarding a stay that Shank was having at a treatment center, according to the report. Helwig said he had a legal obligation to contact authorities.
According to the report, Shank said, "if this must be done, it must be done," and two other priests in the conference call offered to help and support Shank through his "difficult" time. Both said they had "experiences in matters such as this," officials said.
Later reports: In 2016, a separate grand jury report on an investigation of the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown was made public, and the AG's office received information on another of Shank's victims, the report states.
That victim reported that in 1981, when Shank was assigned to a church in Carlisle, he preyed on him, officials said. The report states that Shank massaged the boy's naked body and kissed him. Officials say the boy, 10, was an altar boy, and Shank often took him to New York, where he would give him alcohol.
The report also states that Shank rubbed his penis on the victim while the victim slept one night at the rectory. Additionally, that victim reported that Shank kept photographs of naked boys in a binder, according to officials.
According to officials, Shank arrived at a victim's home and informed the victim that a report had been made about Shank's inappropriate behavior.
"Why didn't you stop me?" Shank asked the victim, according to the report.
Shank was at a treatment facility from December 1994 until at least mid-1997, officials said.
Shank is still alive. A number could not be found for him, and he could not be reached for comment.
However, in late July, Fox43 interviewed Shank after reporters spoke with an alleged abuse victim.
He told the station that he didn't think of the alleged abuse as sexual molestation, but "massaging."
In response to that report, the Diocese of Harrisbug released a statement on Aug. 3.
“As we disclosed in our list earlier this week, Herbert Shank, who was removed from ministry in 1994, was the subject of multiple accusations of child sexual abuse. We watched his recent interview with shock and great sadness as he attempted to rationalize clearly inappropriate behavior with children. We have a zero-tolerance policy as it relates to child sexual abuse. Anyone who is accused of this type of behavior is immediately referred to law enforcement and removed from active duties, employment or volunteering.
“We want to apologize to this particular survivor for the abuse he has suffered. We apologize to all who have endured the pain and suffering of abuse, but also to the people of our Diocese and the public whose faith and trust in our Church has been tested.”
Fox43's report states that Shank is living in Conewago Township in Adams County.
— Reach Christopher Dornblaser at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @YDDornblaser.