Rev. Bruce N. Ritter, O.F.M. conv. – Assignment History

Summary of Case: Born and raised in New Jersey, Bruce Ritter was ordained for the Order of Friars Minor Conventual (Conventual Franciscans) in 1956, in Rome, Italy. After doctoral studies in theology, he returned to the United States in 1959 where he was assigned to his Order's seminaries in Rensselaer, NY, Granby, MA and then Pittsburgh, PA. From 1963 to 1968 he was a Manhattan College faculty member.

With permission from his superiors, in 1968 Ritter began to take in homeless youth in New York's East Village, beginning with six teenage boys and girls, whom he allowed to sleep on the floor of his tenement apartment. Ritter's Covenant House for homeless youth was officially incorporated in 1972. With Ritter's drive, gift for fundraising and charismatic personality, the shelter grew by 1990 to sixteen cities in North and South America and had 3,700 staff members, both paid and volunteer. Ritter became a widely known and admired public figure, earning praise from Presidents Reagan and Bush, Sr.

In December 1989 a 26-year-old male prostitute claimed publicly that he and Ritter had recently had an eight-month affair, which the priest funded with money from Covenant House. Soon thereafter, three more young man came forward, each alleging sexual contact over the years with Ritter, beginning when they were young teens and had gone to him for help at Covenant House. Ritter denied the allegations. In February 1990 he resigned under pressure. The Manhattan District Attorney investigated the alleged financial misconduct, but did not press charges. An internal Covenant House investigation yielded "extensive evidence" that Ritter had engaged in sexual misconduct with residents. One of Ritter's accusers filed suit, but it was thrown out in 1991 due to the statute of limitations.

Ritter left his order and went on to live a quiet life in a farmhouse in rural Ostego County, going by his given name, John. He died in October 1999.

Born: February 25, 1927
Died: October 7, 1999


Start Stop Assignments Town/Allegations State/
Position Notes
1956 1959 Conventual Franciscan Seminary Rome   doctoral student  


Diocese of Albany

Bishop was William Aloysius Scully (1954-1969).

1961 St. Anthony on Hudson Rensselaer NY   This was the major seminary of the Immaculate Conception Province of the Friars Minor Conventual (Syracuse NY).


Diocese of Springfield

Bishop was Christopher Joseph Weldon (1950-1977).

1962 St. Hyacinth Seminary Granby MA    


Diocese of Pittsburgh

Bishop was John Joseph Wright (1959-1969).

1963 St. Francis of Assisi Friary Pittsburgh PA    


Archdiocese of New York

Archbishop was Francis Joseph Spellman (1939-1967), followed by Terence James Cooke (1968-1983).

1968 Manhattan College New York NY

theology teacher

In residence

1968 1982 Covenant House

New York

In December 1989 a man called the OFM.conv. Provincial's office in New Jersey to report that Ritter had sexually abused him when he was a troubled teen at Covenant House in 1973. When he did not receive a response, he contacted the New York Times. The man had previously alleged abuse by Ritter to his psychologist, in April 1989; the psychologist's notes reflected the disclosure. The Times made the allegations public in a February 1990 article.

In January 1990 the Village Voice printed excerpts from a 1986 interview of a then 30-year-old man who said that Ritter started a sexual relationship with him at Covenant House when the man was a 13- year-old boy, and that it lasted off and on for 13 years. The man stood by his claims when interviewed in January 1990 by The New York Times.

Another young man publicly accused Ritter in February 1990 of having had sex with him.


Ritter started Covenant House for homeless youth in two abandoned tenements in New York's East Village in 1968. Per investigative reporter Charles Sennott in 1993, Ritter had taken in six homeless street kids in 1968, letting them sleep on the floor of his apartment. Some of them told Sennott that Ritter was difficult, especially with the girls, and that he made passes at the boys.

By 1990 Covenant House had grown to branches in 16 cities in North and South America, and had 3,700 paid staffers and volunteer workers. A gifted fundraiser and charismatic personality, Ritter became a widely admired public figure, winning accolades from Presidents Reagan and Bush, Sr.

Ritter denied the allegations against him, calling them "garbage."

1982 1983 Mission of the Immaculate Virgin New York NY  



Cooke was succeeded as New York Archbishop by John Joseph O'Connor (1984-2000).

1990 Covenant House

New York

In December 1989 a 26-year-old former male prostitute publicly claimed that he and Ritter had recently had an eight-month sexual relationship and that the priest used Covenant House funds to fund the affair. Covenant House board members launched a public relations campaign to discredit Ritter's accuser, including that he used aliases. The board later admitted that it had helped the man with a recent alias, using the name of a boy who had died at age 10.


The Directories index Ritter during these years as in New York, but also as at Covenant House in Houston TX and, during 1989-1990, in Anchorage AK.

Ritter resigned from Covenant House in February 1990 after publicity about the allegations against him. He also left his Order.




1992 Covenant House Anchorage AK  

Ritter is not indexed beyond the 1992 Directory. Although Ritter is listed in the Directories as in Anchorage 1990-1992, it is unclear that he actually lived there.

An internal Covenant House investigation found "extensive evidence" that Ritter had "engaged in sexual activities with residents... ."

Allegations of financial misconduct against Ritter were investigated by the Manhattan District Attorney. No charges were filed.

At least one of Ritter's accusers filed a lawsuit; it was thrown out in 1991 due to the statute of limitations.

1992 1999        

Ritter went on to live quietly in a farmhouse in a small rural town in Otsego County, going by his given name, John. He would visit St. Joseph's Trappist Abbey in Spencer, MA each month.

He died October 7, 1999

Priests in a Parish: We use the following convention to show a priest's place among the clergy of a parish: 1/2 means that he is the first priest listed in the Official Catholic Directory (usually the pastor) and that there is a total of two priests at the parish. The shorthand 3/4 means that the priest is listed third on a four-priest roster. See our sample page from the Directory.

Source: Official Catholic Directory (Kenedy & Sons, 1960-1992).

Father Ritter's Mission is Rescuing Runaway Youths From Times Square Sex Peddlers, By Cheryl McCall, People Magazine, November 13, 1978
Image of Covenant House Is Eroded by Sex Charges, By Ralph Blumenthal, The New York Times, February 6, 1990
Shelter Residents Defend Covenant House Priest, By Laurie Goodstein, The Washington Post, February 10, 1990
Sex Charges Pit Four Young Men Against the Revered Founder of Covenant House, By William Plummer, People, February 26, 1990
Predators of the Cloth; Betrayal of Trust, By Evan Moore, Houston Chronicle, September 27, 1992
Street Priest Falls From Grace, By Chauncey Mabe, Books Editor, The Sun-Sentinel, February 28, 1993
 An Uneasy Coalition of Activists and Clerics Is Forcing the Catholic Hierarchy to Confront the Problem of Sexually Abusive Priests, By Jason Berry, Los Angeles Times, June 13, 1993
 Priests and Abuse, By Newsweek Staff, Newsweek, August 15, 1993
 Rev. Bruce Ritter, 72, the Founder of Covenant House for Runaway Children, The New York Times, October 13, 1999
 In Quiet Fields, Father Ritter Found His Exile; After Scandal, Covenant House Found Had a Simple, Solitary Life Upstate, By Tina Kelley, The New York Times, October 22, 1999
 The Rise and Fall and Rise of Covenant House, Youth Today, January 1, 2000
 In an Era of Change, a Persistent Crisis, The New York Times, January 12, 2003
 Bishop a 'Healer' and 'Fixer', By Stephanie Barry, Republican [Springfield MA], March 10, 2004

Note: The Official Catholic Directory aims to report the whereabouts of Catholic priests in the United States on January 1 of the Directory's publication year. Our working assumption is that a priest listed in the Directory for a given year was at the same assignment for part of the previous year as well. However, Kenedy and Sons will sometimes accept updates well into the year of publication. Diocesan clergy records are rarely available to correct this information. The Directory is also sometimes misleading or wrong. We have tried to create an accurate assignment record, given the source materials and their limitations. Assignment records are a work in progress and we are always improving the records that we post. Please email us with new information and corrections.

This assignment record collates Ritter's career history as it is represented in the Official Catholic Directory with the allegations against him, as reported in the media. We make no representation regarding the truth of the allegations we report, and we remind our readers that the U.S. legal system presumes that a person accused of or charged with a crime is innocent until proven guilty. Similarly, individuals who may be defendants in civil actions are presumed not to be liable for such claims unless a plaintiff proves otherwise. Admissions of guilt or liability are not typically a part of civil or private settlements. For more information, see our posting policy.

This assignment record was last updated on May 10, 2017.


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