Accused Priest Is Removed from Ministry

By John P. Martin
Philadelphia Inquirer
September 16, 2012

The religious order that let one of its priests relocate to the Philippines after he allegedly sexually assaulted a 13-year-old Devon Prep student in the 1990s says it has removed him from active ministry, almost two decades after the attack.

The Rev. Theodore Podson relocated last month to a residential therapy center and "is being submitted to a carefully controlled supervision," a Rome-based spokesman for the Piarists order said Friday.

The move came after The Inquirer reported that Podson, 64, was working as a priest and promoting himself as a teen mentor 20 years after officials at the Main Line boys school and the Archdiocese of Philadelphia concluded he had sexually abused a minor.

The order's spokesman, Giorgi Pezza, declined to identify where Podson was transferred but said the setting includes "integral supervision" by superiors in his order.

He also said Podson has no interaction with boys. "He was strictly forbidden to do so," Pezza said in an e-mail.

Podson's name and history as a suspected pedophile emerged in secret church files introduced during the child sex-abuse and endangerment trial of two archdiocesan priests this year.

He was one of seven religious-order clerics whom Msgr. William J. Lynn, a former ranking aide to Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua, had included on a 1994 list of dozens of area priests who had admitted or were suspected of sexually abusing minors.

The list was among thousands of documents introduced at Lynn's landmark child-endangerment trial.

The seven priests worked at Catholic high schools and celebrated Masses in the region, but some, including Podson, had never before been publicly identified as abusers because they were outside the authority of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

Podson, a native of the area, was a Devon Prep alumnus who joined the staff in 1985 after teaching at Calasanctius Prep, a now-defunct Piarist school in Buffalo.

He was a "cool" and popular teacher at Devon Prep, according to several former students who asked not to be identified. Podson also regularly ran summer trips for the boys to destinations across the country and the world.

One was a June 1993 trip to Greece. After that trip, a student on it reported to school officials that Podson had sexually assaulted him.

The boy also told Ellen Murphy, a chaperone on the trip. In an interview last month, Murphy recalled that the boy told her Podson had abused him more than once.

The Inquirer has since learned the name of the accuser but does not identify sex-crime victims without their permission.

Now 32, the man could not be reached for comment. Public records show he has lived in several states and had brushes with the law for drug possession and charges including robbery and burglary.

A spokeswoman for Devon Prep said last month that Podson was immediately suspended after the 1993 accusation and never returned to campus. The spokeswoman, Rose Lombardo, also said school officials tried to determine if other students had been victimized. She wouldn't elaborate but said no other accusers had come forward.

After leaving Devon, Podson resurfaced in Amarillo, Texas, as a pastor. He abruptly left there in 2002, three days after the U.S. Conference of Bishops declared it would remove any priest who had sexually abused minors.

The incident at Devon Prep apparently wasn't the first to raise questions about Podson. Lois Dilivio, a student at Calasanctius Prep, said she grew concerned about the priest during his tenure at the Buffalo school.

In a recent interview, Dilivio said she was on a school-sponsored camping trip in the 1970s when she heard Podson in a tent with a group of boys. Dilivio recalled hearing nervous laughter and disturbing banter from the tent, including talk about one boy's bloody testicles.

Decades later, after learning Podson was a pastor in Texas, Dilivio said she called there to make sure the priest didn't have unfettered access to children. But no one would talk, she said.

"They hung up on me," Dilivio said.

In 2003, Podson relocated to the South Pacific. He worked as a hospital chaplain on the Philippine island of Cebu and lived on nearby Olango, an island of six square miles that is popular as a wildlife sanctuary and a tourist destination.

Pezza, the Piarists' spokesman, said officials in the Archdiocese of Cebu had been "completely informed" of the accusation against Podson in the United States. He did not say if church officials took any steps to monitor him.

A resident of Olango Island, Sister Victoria Clair, said last month that Podson had promoted himself as a mentor and rented an apartment that he opened up to "teen scholars." On his Facebook page, Podson regularly posted photos of himself surrounded by children and young men.

Reached on his cellphone last month, Podson declined to talk to The Inquirer. His Facebook page has since been disabled.

Devon Prep officials have declined to discuss Podson's tenure or the allegations against him.

In a note posted on the school's website, the Rev. James Shea, the headmaster, said last month's story about Podson had "elicited several inquiries" from alumni. He offered to discuss it privately with any interested alumni.

Lombardo, the school spokeswoman, declined Friday to say if any had accepted the invitation, but she said it remains open.



Any original material on these pages is copyright 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.