Investigation finds 5 former priests named in grand jury report got state licenses as social workers or counselors

By Paul Van Osdol
August 22, 2018

[with video]

At least five former priests named in the grand jury report worked as state-licensed counselors or social workers, Action News Investigates has learned.

In four of the five cases, no criminal charges had been filed, so state officials knew nothing about the child sex abuse allegations when the former priests applied for state licenses.

Arthur Merrell was a chaplain at the Allegheny County Jail and the Shuman Juvenile Detention Center until 1998, after the grand jury says he was accused of inappropriately touching a boy younger than 15 and having sexual relations with a mentally ill man.

The grand jury says Merrell admitted to the acts, then left the priesthood.

But Merrell told Action News Investigates he could not recall them.

“I was not told about this offense, ever,” he said.

In fact, the grand jury report includes a response from Merrell acknowledging the diocese investigation.

State records show that in 2003 -- five years after leaving the priesthood -- Merrell became a state-licensed counselor.

In 2011, he was charged with fondling a 14-year-old boy.

He pleaded no contest to indecent assault, corruption of minors and endangering the welfare of children.

That caused the state to revoke his counseling license.

WTAE asked Merrell if people should be concerned that he was able to get a counselor’s license.

"No, because this allegation that I've heard about, nobody told me about it," he said.

Action News Investigates has learned another former priest, Richard Deakin, got a job at the Veterans Administration working with homeless veterans after he got a social worker's license.

That was after Deakin was accused of sexually abusing a 13-year-old girl for more than two years.

In 1990, he pleaded guilty to second-degree rape and sexual abuse of a child.

Action News Investigates tried to contact Deakin at his Ambridge home but he did not respond.

In a statement, a VA spokesperson said Deakin disclosed his criminal history when he applied for the job in 1996.

The VA said it has received no allegations of misconduct by Deakin.

Another former priest named in the grand jury report who became a licensed counselor is Albert Leonard. He had a job working with crime victims at Allegheny County's Center for victims. He previously worked at Holy Family Institute.

The grand jury says in the early 1990s, Leonard left the priesthood after being accused of inappropriate behavior with children, including that he swam nude with boys.

The report says the diocese disclosed Leonard's sexual history with minors to Holy Family Institute when he applied for a job there. Holy Family’s director said Leonard worked there a short time then resigned or was fired when they learned of the allegations against him.

But the director of the Center for Victims said when Leonard went to work there, Holy Family made no mention of his history during a reference check.

Bishop David Zubik said he hopes that state licensing officials or employers who contacted the Pittsburgh Catholic Diocese about the priests would have been told about their history.

"We would absolutely respond that way today. I can't speak for everything that happened in the past but I certainly think that would have been the intention, the integrity of the church," Zubik said.

State law requires counselors and social workers to have criminal background checks. But Deakin was the only one of the former priests who was charged with a crime.

The state gave Deakin a restricted license, saying he could not work with anyone under 21.



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