15 Boys Molested, Priest Says

WARREN, Pa. — The wrongdoings of a priest who was pastor at St. Joseph for most of five years are detailed over 20 pages in the grand jury report released Tuesday.

Father Thomas Smith was pastor at St. Joseph from December of 1987 through September of 1992.

In the pages devoted to Smith, the inaction of bishops Michael Murphy and Donald Trautman regarding Smith’s case are also detailed.

According to the report, Smith sexually assaulted at least 15 boys between the ages of 7 and 17 at multiple parishes in the Erie Diocese between his ordination in 1967 and his placement in Warren in 1987.

Reports of Smith sexually abusing a 17-year-old boy were first reported to Murphy in January 1984. Smith resigned that month, according to the report.

“In reality, he was in residential psychological therapy,” according to the report.

He was released in October and assigned to St. Joseph’s in DuBois until February 1985. He was appointed to St. Hippolyte in Guys Mills for about a month and sent to “residential psychological therapy once again,” according to the report.

After he was released in August, Smith was placed at St. Joseph’s of Mount Jewett. After another month, he was transferred to St. Teresa in Union City where he stayed for 10 months.

“In spite of Smith’s history of child abuse, and his need for continued treatment, Murphy continued to permit Smith’s contact with children,” according to the report.

Smith was placed on leave again in December 1986 and he was returned to residential psychological therapy, including to St. Luke’s Institute in Suitland, Md. “In January 1987, Diocesan records indicated that the treatment facility informed Murphy that Smith suffered from a ‘driven, compulsive, and long standing’ obsession with sexually assaulting children,” according to the report. “The facility warned that since his first treatment in 1984, Smith had not stopped sexually assaulting children and that interdiction was needed.”

“These secret Diocesan records obtained by the Grand Jury pursuant to a subpoena showed that, while in treatment, Smith admitted to sexually molesting at least fifteen children,” according to the report. “Smith stated that all of his victims were boys, some as young as seven. Smith had raped them…”

“This information was provided to Murphy in November 1987,” according to the report. “That same month, Smith was discharged from the facility.”

The next month, Smith was assigned to St. Joseph’s in Warren.

“In spite of Smith’s confession to sexually violating at least 15 prepubescent boys, Murphy assigned Smith to the parish of St. Joseph’s in Warren on Dec. 7, 1987.”

Three months later, Smith was notified that he was in violation of his aftercare agreement with St. Luke’s Institute, according to the report. “Regardless, Smith continued in ministry at St. Joseph’s with the approval of Murphy, and, beginning in 1990, Trautman.”

The same priest who had notified Smith of violations of his aftercare agreement contacted Trautman in 1990, saying the “the number of victims” at two known parishes affected by Smith’s abuse “is not clearly known,” according to the report. “The same day… Trautman wrote that he had met with Smith about his problems and that Smith was a person of ‘candor and sincerity,'” and that he would consider reassigning Smith in a year-and-a-half “because he wanted Smith to complete his aftercare and was fearful of future litigation.”

Smith stayed at St. Joseph in Warren until mid-1992.

At his next post, Holy Rosary Parish in Erie, Smith was “very active” in a program for children, according to the report, a violation of his aftercare program.

In mid-1994, Smith was reassigned as parochial vicar – assistant pastor – at Holy Rosary. He retired in 2002.

In 2003, Smith worked as a counselor at “Turning Point” and, according to the report, “had never disclosed his history of child sexual abuse offenses to them.”

When he received a complaint about Smith from Turning Point, Trautman “documented that, ‘I felt he had made a complete recovery from alcoholism and sexual abuse. He had been faithful to his treatment program and gives every indication of having taken full responsibility for his actions.'”

“Under public pressure, Trautman submitted a formal request to the Vatican on Nov. 10, 2004, and requested the laicization of Smith,” according to the report. In a ‘confidential letter,’ “Trautman admitted that the Diocese of Erie had been aware of Smith’s abuses since at least 1987. Trautman disclosed that Smith abused boys between 7 and 12 years of age. He described Smith’s acts as chilling and noted that Smith used physical force to bring about the offenses and threats to secure the secrecy of his crimes. Trautman wrote that Smith invoked the name of God to justify his actions against his victims while using their faith and the priesthood to manipulate them and secure their silence.”

“The Vatican finally acted in 2006 and removed Smith from the priesthood,” according to the report. “Smith’s former flock was never told the reason for his removal.”

According to the report, Trautman directed that a notation be made at the Guys Mills parish regarding Smith: “Dismissed from the clerical state on June 10, 2006 by Pope Benedict XVI. Nothing else need be noted.”

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