Priest's Arrest Raises Questions about Diocese Monitoring
Spokesman Says Acquittal in First Case Showed No Need for It
By Matt Assad and Daniel Patrick Sheehan
The Morning Call [Pennsylvania]
September 14, 2006
Monsignor Stephen Forish's arrest after an allegation he solicited sex from a man on the street raises new questions about how vigorously the Allentown Catholic Diocese keeps track of priests who have been the subject of abuse complaints, critics say.
The diocese said it had not kept tabs on the 61-year-old priest since he voluntarily withdrew from active ministry and took a job as a psychologist in western Pennsylvania, despite 1996 charges of seeking sex from a Bethlehem man and public complaints about his behavior with children in his hometown of McAdoo, Schuylkill County.
Forish remains a priest in the Allentown Diocese but was inactive by choice when he was arrested Aug. 6 after approaching a 26-year-old man in Greensburg and asking for "sexual favors," according to state police in the Westmoreland County city. The man was one of four men Forish approached that night, police said.
Matt Kerr, diocese spokesman, said the diocese did not keep track of Forish because he was acquitted of the 1996 charges and there were no other complaints against him in his diocese file.
Kerr said Forish did not wear his priest's collar in his psychology practice and has not worked as an active priest since 2002. Forish still receives a stipend from the church, as do all priests who have not been defrocked.
Before the August arrest, Forish worked as a psychologist at Family Psychological Consultants in Kittanning, Armstrong County, whose phone book ad states he specializes in family, marriage and child psychology. Kerr said the diocese did not know what type of patients Forish counseled, or if he had any contact with children.
"We had no reason to keep him under any special supervision because, to my knowledge, he has no other complaints against him," Kerr said. "He was acquitted of the 1996 charge, and there were no others."
Tammy Lerner and Juliann Bortz, both of the Allentown Chapter of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said they weren't surprised the diocese hadn't kept tabs on Forish, despite his troubled history.
"I think it's clear to anybody, whether to a lay person or professional, that they've minimized what this guy … has the potential to do," said Lerner, who is also state director of the Foundation to Abolish Child Sex Abuse, a lobbying group. "You would think they would err on the side of caution."
Kerr said there was no report in Forish's file from six parents, who between 1990 and his Bethlehem arrest in 1996 reported that Forish tried to "lure" their children. However, in a 1996 Morning Call story, McAdoo police acknowledged the complaints and said the department had kept Forish under close watch for six years. None of the complaints led to charges.
A diocesan spokesman was quoted in the article, but Kerr, who didn't become spokesman until four years later, said those parents never complained to the church and those incidents are not in Forish's diocesan file.
Forish's latest trouble includes similarities to his 1996 arrest in Bethlehem.
According to a criminal complaint filed by state police at Greensburg, Forish was driving through Greensburg at 1:10 a.m., when he made inappropriate sexual comments, used obscene language and asked for "sexual favors."
Police Cpl. Greg Sullenberger said the victim who filed the complaint is a 26-year-old man and that Forish had approached three other men in a similar manner shortly before and after that incident. Forish was arrested 20 minutes later and admitted to the actions, police said.
In 1996, a 22-year-old man accused Forish of approaching him and offering money for sex. The man said that when he refused, Forish asked him if he knew any 15-year-olds who would be interested.
Forish was tried on charges that included criminal attempt to promote prostitution of children and was acquitted of all charges in 1998.
Forish's Bethlehem Township attorney, Anthony Blasco, cautioned people against revising the history of that case.
"He was found not guilty because he was not guilty. I guarantee you he didn't do it," Blasco said Wednesday. "I don't know the facts of this latest charge, so I can't comment on it."
Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli said Tuesday that the Greensburg case is similar to the Forish case, which his office prosecuted. "Some people said we were overzealous prosecutors and had a weak case," he said. "I feel like we've been vindicated."
The Greensburg incident differs from the Bethlehem case in that Forish is not accused of offering money for sex.
'That's why he's not charged with solicitation," Sullenberger said. "He requested sex, and made disturbing sexual comments, but he did not offer money."
Forish remained an active priest in the diocese until 2002, when he asked to pursue his doctorate in psychology, Kerr said. He was granted permission and left for post-doctoral residency in Westmoreland County, Kerr said.
He's been inactive since 2002 and has not worn his collar while practicing, but that again was his choice, Kerr said.
Charges of sexual abuse by priests exploded in 2002, and in 2003 a three-year probe by a Philadelphia grand jury identified 63 archdiocesan priests as abusers since the 1950s and accused church officials of a cover-up. Seventeen of the offenders have been defrocked, and others have been relieved of pastoral duties.
The Allentown Diocese has deemed that 27 priests have violated the "charter for the protection of children." Much of the abuse dates back decades, and most of those priests have died, but several remain as inactive priests who are under close church supervision, Kerr said.
At least three live in St. Francis Center in Orwigsburg, Schuylkill County, a treatment center for clergy accused of sexually abusing children, and others who live in the community are visited regularly by a trained diocese worker.
Forish wasn't among them.
"The church was aware of one incident in which he was acquitted, and that's it," Kerr said. "There was no reason to believe he had violated the charter."
Sullenberger said Forish, who was charged last Thursday, has returned to his home in McAdoo. He faces charges of harassment and disorderly conduct and is scheduled to have a hearing Nov. 2 before Greensburg District Judge James Albert.
Forish refused to comment Wednesday.
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