Bishop Changes Course, Asks Pope to Defrock Last Abusive Priest on Church Payroll in Pa.
By Candy Woodall
York Daily Record
December 13, 2018
In 2014, Harrisburg Bishop Ronald Gainer decided prayer and penance was the best punishment for a priest who had confessed to sexually abusing multiple children.
Gainer wrote a letter to the Vatican and told the pope he believed the harm done by the Rev. Joseph Pease was being sufficiently repaired.
Pease was 83 at the time and living with dementia, and Gainer believed he couldn’t defend himself in the church’s disciplinary process.
The bishop asked the Vatican to allow Pease to "live out his remaining years in prayer and penance, without adding further anxiety or suffering to his situation, and without risking public knowledge of his crimes."
Gainer has now changed his mind.
A week after the York Daily Record published a report showing Pease is the only priest among 72 accused in the Harrisburg diocese who is still on the church's payroll, the bishop is now seeking laicization for Pease.
|Joseph Pease (Photo: Submitted)|
“While I do not believe Joseph Pease is of sound mind, his dismissal from the clerical state is the appropriate sentence for his actions. I humbly ask you to reconsider the case of Joseph Pease and remove him from the clerical state,” Gainer wrote to Pope Francis, according to diocese spokesman Mike Barley.
The change came about “with additional information that was publicly released,” Barley said.
It’s a process that began in September after more information came to light about Pease with the release of a Pennsylvania grand jury report in August. The grand jury said Pease was unfit to carry the title of priest and the public needed to know about his crimes.
When the diocese asked Pease about a reported sexual assault involving a naked child in the upstairs rectory in 2002, Pease said he remembered the incident and that the victim "must have gotten excited. I must have turned him on more than I thought."
Pease's sexual abuse of children dates back to the 1960s, when he was serving in York County, and spanned his career at 10 parishes.
Church documents show the Harrisburg diocese was aware of the abuse decades ago and sent Pease to a treatment center for six months before returning him to active ministry in several parishes. The Pennsylvania grand jury referred to that shuffling from parish to parish as laundering accused priests and allowing known offenders to return to ministry.
In 1996, then-Bishop Nicholas Dattilo was aware of allegations against Pease and sent him a letter saying "it was inappropriate for minors to be in any place other than public areas of the rectory."
Amid his confessions of child sexual abuse, Pease remained in active ministry until he retired in 2002.
The diocese received multiple complaints about Pease, but 12 years passed after his retirement before Gainer suspended Pease from ministry.
Gainer chose to suspend Pease from ministry instead of laicize him in 2014 because it was “the quickest, easiest way and most effective way to get him out of active ministry,” Barley said.
The laicization process is slow and can take years. Removing him from ministry in 2014, some 12 years after he retired, prevented access to ever acting as an active priest again, Barley said.
Pease is 87, has severe dementia and is still not of sound mind, but laicization is necessary because of the priest’s crimes against children, according to Gainer’s assessment.
The Vatican has not responded to the bishop’s request, Barley said.
Vatican officials have not answered the York Daily Record's questions since August.