Pennsylvania priest faces charges as sex abuse fallout grows
HARRISBURG – A Roman Catholic priest was charged on Tuesday with groping a 17-year-old girl and sending her nude images of himself, just a week after a grand jury reported the church had covered up decades of child molestation by priests across the state.
The charges of felony corruption of minors and misdemeanor indecent assault against 30-year-old Kevin Lonergan were not a result of the landmark grand jury investigation but stemmed from a complaint filed in June, after the grand jury had finished its work, authorities said.
This is at least the second case of possible priest abuse being investigated in the Allentown Diocese since the grand jury finished its report, which identified 301 “predator priests” in a half-dozen Pennsylvania dioceses, including 37 in Allentown, going back to the 1940s.
Authorities have charged just two priests as a result of the grand jury investigation, including a priest who has since pleaded guilty.
But because of time limits in state law on the prosecution of old cases, Attorney General Josh Shapiro said those two were the only priests named in the report that his office could charge. Some of those named were prosecuted years ago, and more than 100 are dead.
Court papers did not list a lawyer for Lonergan. Lehigh County District Attorney Jim Martin said Allentown Diocese officials immediately reported the matter to law enforcement and Lonergan has been removed from active ministry.
Lonergan met the girl at Mass last year, authorities said.
Meanwhile, fallout from the grand jury report is growing.
A Roman Catholic university plans to remove the names of three bishops from campus buildings, saying Monday that it is acting in solidarity with victims of child sexual abuse.
The University of Scranton said three bishops – Jerome D. Hannan, J. Carroll McCormick, and James C. Timlin – in the local diocese were found in the report to have covered up crimes by priests and put children in harm’s way.
Hannan served from 1954 until his death in 1965. McCormick served from 1966 until 1983 and died in 1996. Timlin served from 1984 until 2003 and is 91 years old.
The diocese’s response to the report noted that Timlin instituted a uniform response policy for allegations of abuse and established an internal review board.
Pope Francis vowed Monday that “no effort must be spared” to root out sex abuse by priests and church cover-ups, but Francis gave no indication that he would sanction complicit bishops or end the Vatican culture of secrecy that has allowed the crisis to fester.
The report cites complaints about sexual misconduct by priests with children or teenagers that the three Scranton Diocese bishops did not act on, instead leaving the priests to continue in ministry.
Two weeks before the report was released, the Harrisburg Diocese said it would hold past church leadership accountable for the sexual abuse of children by priests and strip the names of bishops going back 70 years from church properties.
Dioceses in Pennsylvania, for the first time, have released lists of priests accused of sexual misconduct. Meanwhile, Beaver County fired a county government lawyer after a report showed that, as district attorney in the 1960s, he stopped an investigation of possible child abuse by a priest to gain political favor from the Pittsburgh Diocese.
In Allentown, the City Council voted unanimously to fire the city solicitor based on the report’s description of him, as a diocese lawyer, in 2002 attempting to “undermine” and “discredit” a woman who had accused a priest of molesting her two decades earlier.