Pennsylvania man, inspired by grand jury unmasking of pedophile priests, gets another shot at justice
By Corky Siemaszko
August 27, 2018
The 45-year-old said he was treated as a pariah when he accused a priest of abuse in 1997.
Pennsylvania authorities have opened an investigation into a Catholic priest who was accused of sexually abusing a student 30 years ago but was never questioned because too much time had passed since the alleged abuse, according to the district attorney.
The priest, Monsignor H. Desmond McGee, 71, was not one of the 301 "predator priests" accused of sexual abuse who were named in a recent bombshell Pennsylvania grand jury report.
But investigators in McKean County said Monday that they decided to look into McGee after his accuser, Edward Rodgers, went public following the release of the report — and repeated allegations that the monsignor molested him when he was a student at Bradford Central Christian High School in Bradford, Pennsylvania.
"We're going to take a second look at any case that comes to our attention," McKean County District Attorney Stephanie Vettenburg-Shaffer told NBC News on Monday. The investigation is based on Rodgers' allegation of abuse; no other evidence against McGee has been made public. It's not clear that the DA's office could take any action even if it found evidence of abuse, because of the statute of limitations.
Rodgers said he was treated like a pariah by many people in his Bradford hometown after he accused McGee in 1997 of repeatedly raping him from September 1988 to October 1989, when the priest was the headmaster at the high school.
"When I came out in the '90s, I got trashed bad," Rodgers, 45, a father of four, told NBC News, referring to the moment he made the accusation. "People said how could I go against the church? I promised myself I'd never put my family in that situation again."
But Rodgers said that after the grand jury report came out, he got a call from Jim VanSickle — a family friend and fellow former Bradford Central student who said he was molested by a priest.
"He said: 'I'm coming back to Bradford. Would you stand with me?'" Rodgers said. "After talking to my wife for three days, she said it was time to take a stand so this doesn't happen to another child."
Anne-Marie Welsh, a spokeswoman for the Diocese of Erie in Pennsylvania, confirmed that an investigation into McGee was underway. She said McGee is currently a patient at Christ the King Manor, a nursing home in DuBois, Pennsylvania. Messages left at the nursing home for McGee on Monday were not immediately returned.
"He remains a priest in good standing," Welsh said. "But he is not able to do any ministry."
Rodgers said that he confronted McGee about the abuse in 1997 and that McGee threatened him over the phone not to call the police. Rodgers then wrote a letter to the diocese before going to the police and telling them what McGee had done to him.
Rodgers said the police told him there was nothing they could do because of the statute of limitations, which was previously five years in criminal sex abuse cases. Rodgers then sued McGee, the Diocese of Erie and the now-defunct Bradford Central Christian High School for $150,000 in damages. He said he was 14 when McGee started abusing him.
"I was just a kid from a small town. I was raised Catholic. I did what I was supposed to do," he said. "I got four bleeding ulcers, four regular ulcers, a hiatal hernia and nightmares because of all the stress. I still have the nightmares."
But a McKean County judge dismissed the lawsuit, citing the then-two-year statute of limitations for filing civil suits.
Bishop Donald Trautman, who was then the leader of the Diocese of Erie, said in a statement at the time that the diocese felt "vindicated by the system of justice" and threatened to sue Rodgers for slander.
Rodgers said he was crushed. "I took all my demons and tucked them away nice and deep," he said.
Trautman's attorney sent NBC News a statement on his behalf on Monday saying he would cooperate with any investigation. The statement said the church conducted an internal investigation into Rodgers' allegations when he raised them in the 1990s "and found them not to be substantiated." No other allegations were raised against McGee, the statement added.
VanSickle, who now lives in Pittsburgh, said he was abused by another priest who had been assigned to Bradford Central Christian High School named David Poulson.
Poulson is named in the grand jury report. Four other priests named in the report — Richard Lynch, Samuel Slocum, Donald Cooper and Michael Amy — had also taught at that school. Lynch was the headmaster from 1972 to 1983, according to the report. The school closed in 2000.
VanSickle said Trautman needs to be held accountable for what happened at Bradford.
Trautman is now retired, Welsh said. Following the grand jury report, Trautman released a statement in which he defended his record of "disciplining, defrocking and ultimately laicizing pedophiles in the Diocese" and said he had made "efforts to provide care and support for victims."
In his statement Monday, Trautman's lawyer noted specifically that Trautman had suspended Amy, Cooper and Slocum after learning about the abuse allegations against them.
"Bishop Trautman had nothing to hide then and he has nothing to hide now," the statement said.