Charges against Ex-Priest Dropped

By Ryan Smith
Meadville Tribune
March 19, 2008

Crawford County's district attorney said there's evidence against a former Catholic priest accused of molesting a boy nearly 40 years ago, but the case against the man has been dropped due to an expired statute of limitations.

Francis Schultz requested Tuesday that Pennsylvania State Police withdraw corruption of children charges filed Monday against Thomas Edward Smith, 67, of 716 Innis St., Apt. 38, Oil City. The charges alleged Smith molested the boy — who is now a 50-year-old man — at a Paden Road, East Mead Township, residence over a two-year period while Smith was serving as a Catholic priest between Oct. 10, 1968, and Oct. 10, 1970.

Under state law enacted in 2007, alleged victims of abuse against children now have until age 50 to file related charges. The case against Smith was withdrawn, however, because the state's original statute of limitations for charges to be filed had already expired and the expanded limit applies only to incidents that occurred after the new law took effect, according to the district attorney.

"We are very disappointed that we cannot avail ourselves to the new statute of limitations for crimes involving the abuse of children," Schultz said in a press release Tuesday. "The investigation by the Pennsylvania State Police revealed evidence that sexual acts were committed by Smith against the victim, when the victim was between 10 and 12 years of age. However, the statute of limitation precludes the commonwealth from pursuing a conviction in this case."

Smith had been scheduled to appear before Saegertown Area Magisterial District Judge Lincoln Zilhaver early next month for a preliminary hearing on the formerly-filed charges. Schultz said once he determined the case could no longer be pursued, he immediately informed police to formally drop the charges and personally informed Smith that the charges would be withdrawn.

Previous reports from area news sources indicated the alleged victim, who wasn't identified in court papers, actively sought years later to have Smith removed from the ministry through correspondence with former Erie Catholic Bishop Donald W. Trautman between 1993 and 2002. The Catholic church removed Smith as a priest in 2006.

"I'm absolutely livid" about the charges being dropped, said Judy Prenatt, a relative of the alleged victim, adding she feels he's been "re-victimized."

Smith, whose home phone number isn't listed, couldn't be reached for comment Tuesday.


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