Report cites cases of 2 York-area priests as examples of 'wholesale institutional failure'

A state grand jury report alleging widespread child sexual abuse by priests dating back 70 years specifically singles out the cases of three clergymen — including two with ties to York County churches — as examples of “institutional failure” by the Diocese of Harrisburg.

It claims diocese officials were made aware of the allegations against the men but allowed them to continue serving in ministry.

According to the report, two of those men served York County parishes in the 1960s and '80s.

The Rev. Joseph M. Pease was assigned to St. Joseph’s in Hanover from 1961 to 1962 and to St. Patrick’s in York City from 1963 until 1966; the Rev. Augustine Giella was assigned to St. Joseph’s in Hanover from 1980 to 1982.

Pease: In 1995, the diocese received a letter saying Pease was a "danger to the church," according to the report. That sender's name is redacted in the report, but the redacted person's name is joined with "concerned parents and grandparents of the region." 

The diocese received another letter, this time from an alleged victim, later that year. 

That man, 36 at the time the letter was written, told the diocese that Pease sexually abused him when the priest was at St. Paul's Church in Atlas, Northumberland County, the report states.

The abuse allegedly took place between 1971 and 1973, when the victim was between 13 and 15 years old. The man told the diocese that some of the abuse occurred on a boat that Pease co-owned with the Rev. Francis Bach, who also is listed in the report.

Bach, who died in 2010, admitted to abusing 14 boys between the ages of 14 and 16, according to the report. Bach, born in 1936, worked at St. Patrick's in York City from 1964 until 1965. He also worked at St. Rose of Lima in York City from 1975 until 1976.

Pease's victim said he reported the abuse because Pease was still in ministry and the victim's nephew was an altar server at the church where the priest was assigned, the report stated.

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The grand jury noted the allegations should have been reported to law enforcement, a notice should have been made to Pease's past parishes and an investigation into the existence of other victims should have be done.

"Instead, the Diocese began plans to utilize a 'treatment facility,' to treat priests, such as Pease, who were accused of sexual abuse," the report states.

The facilities relied almost entirely on self-reporting and usually avoided diagnosis related to the sexual abuse of children, the report stated.

"Put plainly, these institutions laundered accused priests, provided plausible deniability to the bishops, and permitted hundreds of known offenders to return to ministry," according to the report. 

Pease followup: In July 1995, diocese officials spoke with Pease, who denied anything sexual had happened, officials said. The report stated the priest admitted to "horse play."

Pease also admitted he found the victim naked upstairs in the rectory and said "What are you doing?" to the boy before pushing him toward the bed and leaving, the report stated.

"In spite of these bizarre statements by Pease, (Bishop Nicholas Dattilo) took no immediate action to remove Pease from ministry," it noted.

According to officials, Pease and Bach were members of a group of predators who shared information regarding their victims and shared the victims between each other.

Kept on: In September 1995, the Rev. Paul Helwig, a high-ranking diocese official, passed along Pease's information to a treatment center to find out if the diocese should be concerned about the present or future ministry of Pease, according to the report.

That center informed the diocese later that month that no diagnoses had been issued based on the information the center was provided, officials said.

In December 1995, Helwig met with the victim and obtained other details, according to the report. Helwig told the victim that Pease underwent a psychological assessment and that professionals could not find a reason for Pease not to be in active ministry at that time, according to officials. 

Pease continued in active ministry until December 2002, the report stated.

In January 1996, Helwig wrote to Pease and reminded him that, under the Program for Priestly Life, it is "entirely inappropriate" for minors to be in any place other than in public areas of the rectory, officials said. 

"These and other prudent personal boundaries regarding associations and activities with young people should be diligently observed by every priest so as to avoid misunderstanding and even the appearance of inappropriateness," Helwig wrote, according to the report.

In 2002, following a Boston Globe report on clergy abuse, an attorney for Pease's victim reached out to the diocese and requested an investigation, officials said. 

Bishop Dattilo ordered the investigation, and he issued a penal precept — or sanction — for Pease, according to the report. Pease requested retirement on Dec. 17, 2002.

On Dec. 21, 2002, Dattilo read a statement at a parish in Mount Carmel and at St. Joseph's and explained that Pease admitted to "inappropriate sexual contact with an adolescent," according to authorities. 

In that statement, Dattilo said there were discrepancies in the abuse accounts, Pease did not admit guilt, and the result of Pease's 1995 evaluation provided insufficient basis to resolve the discrepancies and determine guilt, the report stated.

In January 2003, Pease retired from service.

By 2014, diocese officials still had not made a determination if he should be suspended or removed from priesthood, according to officials.

Bishop Ronald Gainer, who is still the bishop at the Harrisburg Diocese, decided not to remove him but allowed him to live out his remaining years in "peace and penance," according to the report.

"While removing Pease from ministry was a start, he was clearly unfit to carry the title of priest. Moreover, public knowledge of Pease's crime is exactly what was required in service to the public and Pease's victims," the grand jury report reads. 

Additional information in the report is heavily redacted. The diocese said Pease is still alive. 

Gainer response: On Wednesday, Aug. 15, the Harrisburg Diocese released a statement about Pease. 

According to the diocese, to end Pease's association from the diocese, a canonical trial would be required, and that was not a "viable option" for Pease, who was 83 in 2014 and suffering from diminished mental capacity. 

The diocese said that Gainer recommended Pease live out his life in "prayer and penance," meaning that he would be permanently barred from presenting himself as a priest, conducting ministry or dressing as a priest.  

He was already under the constraints, but this made it permanent, according to the diocese. 

Giella: According to the report,  Giella abused five sisters while he was assigned to St. John the Evangelist Church in Enhaut, Dauphin County, in 1982. That is where he was assigned after his two years at St. Joseph's in Hanover.

Officials say he befriended a family that included eight girls and one boy. He abused five of the eight girls as well as other relatives of the family, the report alleges.

The abuse, one of the women testified, took place in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, where Giella invited the family for visits.

The abuse's effects were described as "long-lasting," according to the report.

"The emotional, psychological, and interpersonal damage to the sisters is incalculable," the report stated.

The grand jury report stated that Giella's abuse could have been stopped earlier, when the diocese first received a complaint in the 1980s.

Abuse report: In April 1987, a teacher at Bishop McDevitt High School in Harrisburg received a complaint that Giella was insisting on watching a girl while she used the bathroom, officials said. 

The teacher complained to the Rev. Joseph Coyne, who reported it to the diocese, officials said.

That complaint, along with another complaint alleging similar misconduct, was written about in an internal memorandum by Monsignor Hugh Overbaugh in 1987, the report stated.

According to the report, Overbaugh wrote that Coyne was instructed not to do anything until the matter was discussed with diocesan legal counsel. 

Despite the detailed memorandum and a note expressing a similar situation with Giella, the diocese did not attempt to remove him from ministry, officials said. Giella retired in 1988. 

Following his retirement, he continued to sexually abuse girls, according to the grand jury report. 

In 1992, one of the victims came forward after she discovered nude or partially nude photos of herself at Giella's house, officials said. 

That year Giella spoke with Helwig and told him he began having contact with the girl in the bath and that as they became more comfortable with each other, their embraces became "more intense," leading to "some fondling on his part," according to officials.

The report states that Helwig instructed Giella to stay away from the family. According to officials, Giella was like a "grandfather figure" in the family. 

The family confronted Overbaugh, unaware that the diocese had received a complaint earlier, according to the grand jury report. 

According to officials, the monsignor told the girls' mother, "I wondered why you were letting them go to the rectory." 

Later, Helwig told her that the girl took Giella's intentions wrong, according to the report.  

Arrest: The family reported the abuse to police in both Pennsylvania and New Jersey, and law enforcement in New Jersey searched Giella's home, officials said. 

Authorities found young girls' underwear, containers containing pubic hairs identified by initials, vials of urine, sex books, feminine sanitary products, numerous photos of girls in sexually explicit positions and some photos of children urinating, among other things, according to the report. 

Police took Giella into custody in August 1992. He was charged with child pornography and sexual abuse. 

No records in the diocese state if any personnel ever reported prior complaints or Giella's confession to authorities, and victims told the grand jury that the information was never told to them, the report states.

After Giella's arrest, police received numerous calls from women reporting that he had fondled them in Hackensack, New Jersey, officials said. They allegedly said they were hesitant to come forward because of his position in the church.

In October 1992, the family sued the diocese, which led to "aggressive litigation" resulting in the release of the victims' psychological and academic records to the diocesan lawyers, the report stated.

The diocese haggled with the family over whether the victim had a diagnosed condition because of Giella's abuse, and lawyers argued that the diocese was not responsible for the conduct of its agents, according to authorities.

Bishop Datillo wrote a letter to the family and said he pledged full cooperation with the family, but the lawyers continued to litigate and attempted to negotiate the family down from $900,000 to $225,000, according to the report. 

Officials say the settlement was nearly $1 million.

Giella died awaiting trial. 

Victim testifies: Before testifying to the grand jury, one of the victims suffered a panic attack after seeing an older man who resembled Giella, according to the report.

She testified to the grand jury and explained why she decided to come forward. She told the grand jury this, according to the report: 

"Because it doesn’t have to happen to anybody. They don’t have to live a life like I have to. I continually have to battle. The man out there is a very nice man. He is old like Giella and I can’t — it makes me — it makes me think about what happened and he is nice and he doesn’t deserve me to think that. But I can’t — I can’t walk through there and see him because it makes me feel uncomfortable. I don’t — I don’t know. I believe in God. I don’t go to church. My son is the only reason I’m alive. Thank God I had him because, if I didn’t have him — I probably would have killed myself a long time ago."

Months after her testimony, she attempted suicide, officials said. While in recovery, she requested to speak with an attorney for the commonwealth to make sure the investigation was still going on, the report states. 

Her primary fear was that the truth would not be told to the public, officials said.

"The evidence also revealed that Diocesan administrators, including bishops, had knowledge of this conduct and that priests were regularly placed in ministry after the Diocese was on notice that a complaint of child sexual abuse had been made," the report states. "The Diocese's actions enabled the offenders and endangered the welfare of children."

— Reach Christopher Dornblaser at or on Twitter at @YDDornblaser.