Priest Accused of Sexual Abuse Jumps from Bridge to His Death

By Susan Evans
The Tribune-Democrat [Pennsylvania]
June 25, 2007

The Rev. William A. Rosensteel, a veteran priest who once served in Gallitzin and Johnstown, killed himself Sunday on the eve of an announcement that sex abuse allegations against him would be referred to law enforcement.

The 64-year-old priest jumped from the McNally Bridge on Route 219 in Richland Township late Sunday afternoon.

He died of blunt force trauma, said Cambria County Coroner Dennis Kwiatkowski.

Rosensteel, an Ebensburg native who at various times during his 38-year career had served at the former St. Patrick parish in Gallitzin and St. Patrick's in Johnstown, had been on administrative leave since March.

He was facing sex abuse allegations dating to 1972.

Events leading to the priest's suicide had a rapid momentum, beginning late last week.

On Friday, Joseph Adamec, bishop of the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown, announced that after conducting an initial diocese review the 1971 claims against Rosensteel would be turned over to civil authorities.

The bishop's statement was published in Monday's edition of The Catholic Register, a newspaper that serves as the official publication of the eight-county diocese.

But before the publication hit the streets, Rosensteel jumped.

The suicide brought sudden reaction from Adamec, who Monday said he was "deeply saddened" by the tragic turn of events.

"It is difficult to comprehend a priest taking the action that he did. While Father Rosensteel was facing allegations from the past, those allegations were being processed through appropriate channels and in a way consistent with the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People," Adamec said, referring to the procedures agreed to by bishops in 2002.

"There was hope that the final determination would allow him to retire with some type of ministry," he said.

Rosensteel served in several parishes throughout the diocese.

He was at one time pastor of St. Patrick's in Newry and parochial vicar at St. Mary's in Altoona. He also taught at Bishop Guillfoyle High School in Altoona.

Most recently, he had served at Holy Rosary in Altoona, but had resigned his pastorate after being placed on administrative leave.

Rosensteel attended Holy Name Elementary School and Central Cambria High School in Ebensburg.

He earned a degree in philosophy from St. Francis College and attended St. Francis Seminary in Loretto. In the 1960s, he served as a deacon at St. Francis Xavier Church in Cresson and at St. Catherine of Siena in Duncansville.

Rosensteel was ordained to the priesthood on May 24, 1969.

The allegations were being handled under a procedure adopted nationwide in the wake of revelations of widespread sexual abuse of minors and cover-ups in many dioceses.

As part of that procedure, the individual making the claim met with the Diocesan Allegation Review Board, which recommended that further action be taken.

"Consequently, the case has been referred to the civil authorities," the bishop said in his statement published in The Catholic Register.

As part of his published statement, before the suicide, Adamec asked people to "withhold judgment until the investigations are completed."

"It is the nature of the church, as an Assembly of Believers, to strive for holiness, as sinners on the way to it," he said.

The Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown has wrestled with child sex abuse by priests since the mid-1990s, when a lawsuit against the diocese and since-defrocked Francis Luddy drew national attention.

Since then, more than 12 additional priests have been investigated, court records show.

And while previous bishops may have turned a blind eye, including one who wrote to priests in 1985 warning them of police surveillance, Adamec has vowed to handle all such allegations under the tougher procedures.


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