Priests Who Served Locally and the Abuses
By Alexandra Desanctis
September 21, 2018
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court released the findings of an 18-month-long grand jury investigation into sex abuse in the Catholic Church on Tuesday. The report contains the names of 301 people the grand jury deemed to be predators. Of those, 26 served locally within the Times News coverage area, 22 assigned to the Allentown diocese and four with the Diocese of Scranton. In addition to naming names, the report provides details of the accusations against each of the accused predators. The Allentown Diocese also listed additional names of accused priests.
Only a handful of offenders were ever criminally prosecuted, with most just reassigned or allowed to retire. Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro subpoenaed internal documents from each of Pennsylvania’s Catholic dioceses for the grand jury investigation, uncovering a conspiracy of silence.
Priests with ties to the area are listed:
• Thomas J. Bender taught at Marian Catholic High School, Tamaqua, in 1965 and 1966, at Nativity BVM High School in Pottsville from 1966 to 1971 and at the former St. Francis Orphanage in Orwigsburg from 1971 to 1972.
The diocese became aware of Bender’s illicit activities in 1972, when he was caught having sex with a male student. A second victim came forward in 1984 and Bender received psychotherapy while being allowed to continue to serve as a priest. Bender was placed on a leave of absence after the second victim’s family filed a lawsuit.
In 1988, he was convicted of child molestation and sentenced to seven years probation for molesting a teenage boy with whom he had a yearslong sexual relationship. He was allowed to remain on a paid leave of absence during his probation until being dismissed from the priesthood in 2005. In 2006, he was caught in a child sex abuse sting operation and sentenced to 10 years in federal prison in 2008.
His local assignments also included numerous parishes in Schuylkill County and the Allentown areas.
Raymond L. Deviney: served as pastor and pastor emeritus of Christ the King Church in Blakeslee from 1976 to 2007.
A woman contacted the diocese in 1994, saying he touched her inappropriately when she was a teenager and took advantage of her when she sought counseling after the loss of a child. Her response from the bishop was initially comforting, but she was unhappy with the follow up, as no disciplinary action was taken.
• Stephen T. Forish was removed from the Allentown diocese in 2003 and died in 2006. The diocese reported the allegation to law enforcement.
Forish was accused on two different occasions of soliciting sex on the street. He died in a one-car crash on Route 93 in Carbon County.
According to media reports, Forish was accused of offering a 22-year-old man money for sex in Bethlehem in 1996. He was acquitted of all charges in that case including promoting the prostitution of children.
In August 2006, several months before his death, Forish was arrested after approaching a 26-year-old man in Westmoreland County and asking for sexual favors. He was awaiting court action on those charges when he died.
• James Gaffney was assigned to St. Mary of the Assumption Church in Coaldale in 1995. Earlier, in the 1980s, he assisted at St. Joseph’s Church in Summit Hill. Gaffney, 61, was an assistant pastor at six parishes in Schuylkill County from 1995 to 1999 and at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Pottsville from 1999 to 2002.
Gaffney knew he wasn’t fit for the priesthood as early as 1980, when he informed the Allentown Diocese that he needed a leave of absence and didn’t plan to return to the seminary. He did return.
In 1982, there was a recommendation made to dismiss Gaffney, but that recommendation wasn’t followed. Instead, he was allowed to continue his ministry. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the church received numerous complaints about Gaffney’s inappropriate behavior, including three victims who alleged he abused them while he was offering them counseling services.
Gaffney took a paid leave of absence in 2002. Sometime later, church officials determined he was a “potential threat to minors.” Despite that determination, church leaders said nothing when Gaffney went on to become a professor at Albright College in Reading after abandoning the ministry.
In a bit of a twist, while at the Summit Hill Church in 1980, Gaffney discovered a stash of child pornography which included photos of the parish priest, David Soderland, and a 12-year-old boy. Gaffney reported the incident to diocesan officials.
Monsignor Anthony Muntone conducted an investigation and found several albums depicting Soderland involved in sexual acts with several children. Three separate victim complaints were filed with the diocese in 1980, leading to Soderland being placed on sick leave that July.
The diocesan attorney was in contact with Carbon County officials. According to grand jury testimony, Muntone was told by the attorney that, “The Carbon County District Attorney assured me that if the parents didn’t make an issue of the matter, the D.A. wouldn’t prosecute. He also made it clear that Father Soderland would no longer be stationed in Carbon County.”
Soderland spent two months on sick leave before being reassigned to Good Samaritan Hospital in Pottsville in 1986 as a chaplain. Hospital officials filed complaints with the diocese in April 1987, asking for the chaplain to be fired due to his inappropriate contact with an 8-year-old boy. He wasn’t removed until 1989 when he was placed on administrative leave.
Dismissed from the priesthood in 2005, he was arrested in Wyoming in 2009 on charges of sexual exploitation of children and possession of child pornography. He was sentenced to two to five years in prison and is listed on the state’s sex offender registry.
• Joseph Galko was assigned to St. Ambrose Parish in Schuylkill Haven from 1983 to 1986. Galko, 64, was placed on administrative leave in 1988 and dismissed from the priesthood in 2010.
The first report of Galko’s predatory practices came in 1984. At that time, he admitted having sex with an 18-year-old male parishioner as well as several such encounters before and during his time in the seminary as well as after his ordination in 1980. He was reassigned to a parish in Easton in 1986.
Victims came forward to the diocese in 2002 and 2007 but charges were never formally filed.
Edward George Ganster: died in 2014, was ordained in 1971 and spent the next 16 years assigned to numerous churches in Schuylkill, Lehigh and Northampton Counties. That included a two-year stint as Catholic Student Advisor at Penn State University Campus Ministry from 1982 to 1983.
Although victims didn’t contact the diocese until 2002, 2005 and 2015, Ganster was placed on sick leave at the end of 1987, and hospitalized in 1988.
He later asked the diocese to remove him as a priest, as he wanted to get married to a woman he met while hospitalized.
His wish was granted in 1990 when he was removed from the priesthood. By that time, he was employed at Walt Disney World in Florida, thanks in part to a recommendation given by the diocese.
• The late Robert J. Gibson served as administrator of Our Lady Queen of Peace Church in Brodheadsville from 1974 to 1982. He was also assigned to Notre Dame Junior/Senior High School in Easton from 1973 to 1974.
The Diocese of Scranton was notified in 1995 of possible sexual abuse committed by Gibson when he was at Notre Dame. He was sent to a treatment facility in Missouri for “troubled priests,” including suspected pedophiles and sex offenders, in 1998 after a second victim came forward in 1997.
• Francis T. Gillespie, who died in 2017, is accused of abusing two brothers while he was assigned to St. Joseph’s Parish in Girardville from 1959 to 1963. Gillespie also served the diocese at Nativity BVM and Notre Dame Junior/Senior High Schools and Moravian College.
One of his victims reported he was given cold medicine and alcohol, which made some memories of that night fuzzy. He remembered waking up to find himself in bed, naked, with Gillespie pressed up against him.
Later, that victim learned his older brother had also been abused by Gillespie, who was allowed to retire in 2002 with full benefits.
• Richard J. Guiliani, 76, served as vice principal of Notre Dame High School from 1973-1974 and as principal of Cardinal Brennan High School in Schuylkill County in 1974. According to testimony, Guiliani abused one of his students at Notre Dame, then visited her in college, asking her to marry him. She declined and reported him to the diocese in 2003. A second victim came forward in 2004, this time a student from Cardinal Brennan.
The diocese waited until 2011 to report the abuse to the Northampton and Schuylkill County district attorneys.
In the meantime, Guiliani went absent without leave from the church in 1977 and was reportedly living in Florida as of 2011.
• P. Lawrence Homer, who died in 2015, resigned in 1993 after spending 33 years ministering in the Diocese of Scranton. After his resignation, he lived at Our Lady of Peace Rectory in Brodheadsville until being removed from the ministry in 2002.
His inappropriate contact with female students was first reported in 1967. A second victim came forward in 1988, which led to the diocese receiving additional complaints from numerous victims, including a nun.
• Joseph D. Hulko, 78, was assigned to Reading Central Catholic High School from 1967 to 1970 and was principal at Nativity BVM from 1970 to 1977. His parish assignments included St. Michael’s Church in Lansford and he served as chaplain at the St. Francis Orphanage in Orwigsburg in 1971. He also served as Regional Director of the Family Life Center for Berks, Carbon and east Schuylkill counties from 1978 to 1982.
In 2003, he confessed to abusing a minor female at the orphanage in 1971.
Before that confession, Hulko was on sick leave from 1980 through 1985. Between 1982 and 2003, he was sent for “treatment” a total of six times. Despite that, the diocese continued to give him pastoral assignments until his retirement in 2003.
• William E. Jones, who died in 2004, was dismissed from his position at St. Patrick’s Church in Pottsville in 2002 after allegations of sexual abuse.
He had also served at Notre Dame High School and at St. Joseph’s Parish in Summit Hill. A monsignor at the time of his dismissal, part of his duties was to oversee allegations against other priests.
Despite admitting to the allegations, Jones was allowed to remain a priest. At his funeral, he was eulogized as “a man who suffered greatly his last years because of scandal.”
• Joseph H. Kean, 81, was assigned to SS. Peter and Paul’s Parish in Lehighton from 1983 to 1987. He retired in 2002 and was dismissed from the priesthood in 2007. He also taught at Marian High School from 1971 to 1973 and was assigned to Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, Nesquehoning, from 1971 to 1973.
The grand jury heard from five men who said they were victimized by Kean in the late 1970s, early 1980s. The first complaint was made to the diocese in 1992. All said Kean liked to “wrestle” with the altar boys. Most were invited to the home of Kean and his parents for sleepovers, which is where much of the abuse occurred.
Several of the victims reported being “shared” between Kean and William E. Jones.
Kean admitted to several of the encounters but was never prosecuted and was allowed to retire in 2002 with full benefits.
• Thomas J. Kerestus was ordained in 1969 and died in 2014.
His behavior came to the attention of the diocese in 1985 when several members of the parish of St. John Capistrano in Bethlehem reported his improper behavior with a 16-year-old boy. He took a leave of absence in 1986 and was then assigned to the Sacred Heart Parish in Allentown.
A second victim came to light in 1992.
During his tenure with the diocese, Kerestus also served as regional director for three different CYO groups, two in Schuylkill County and one in Northampton County. He also served as chaplain for the Appalachian Trail Scouting Council.
• Robert J. Kuzmann was removed from the Allentown diocese in 2006 and laicized in 2015. The diocese reported the allegation to law enforcement.
Kuzmann had stints as the assistant pastor at St. Jerome’s Church, Tamaqua, followed by time at Marian Catholic High School.
• Michael S. Lawrence taught at Central Catholic and Notre Dame High Schools in the Lehigh Valley between 1974 and 1984 and was assigned to Immaculate Conception Church in Jim Thorpe from 1984 to 1987, where he served as regional director of the Eastern Schuylkill CYO.
Lawrence’s pedophilic behavior was actually brought to light when he was still in the seminary. One of his victims was also reportedly abused by Joseph H. Kean.
Lawrence was allowed to retire in 2002 and died in 2015.
• Francis Joseph McNelis, who died in 2005, was reported to the diocese in 1992. The victim said the abuse occurred from 1966 through 1968. McNelis was assigned to St. Jerome’s Church in Tamaqua in 1969 and was reassigned in 1970.
After the abuse report, McNelis was on sick leave and retired in 2002.
A second victim came forward in 2004.
• James J. Mihalak was removed from the Allentown diocese in 1997. The diocese attempted to laicize Mihalik, but the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith (a Vatican office) found the allegation could not be prosecuted, and therefore, laicization was not possible. The diocese reported the allegation to law enforcement.
Mihalak was serving as a priest at Mary, Queen of Peace Catholic Church in Pottsville when he was charged with fondling a 17-year-old boy he picked up hitchhiking at the Cressona Mall in 1997.
Mihalak also spent time as pastor in Frackville and Shenandoah.
• John S. Mraz was removed from the Allentown diocese in 2016. The diocese reported the allegation to law enforcement. In 2017, Mraz was sentenced to 6 to 23 months in jail related to viewing child pornography and is required to register as a sex offender under Megan’s Law until 2032.
Mraz, former priest at St. Ann Catholic Church in Emmaus and Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Northampton, asked a parishioner to upgrade his computer in 2016, when the images were discovered.
• Paul G. Puza, 69, taught at Lafayette College, Central Catholic High School and Nativity BVM in the years between 1975 and 1989. He taught at Marian Catholic High School while assigned to St. Richard’s Church in Barnesville from 1989 to 2002. A former student who entered the seminary in 1991 reported being abused multiple times by Puza when the seminarian was in eighth grade. A second victim came forward in 1995.
Despite the victims’ testimony, Puza was allowed to keep his teaching assignment until admitting to sexual misconduct in 2002.
He was dismissed from the priesthood in 2010.
• Gerald Royer died in 2003. He took two leaves of absence before leaving the ministry in 1965.
His conduct was reported to the church in 1948 before the Diocese of Allentown came into existence. The report was kept secret until the victim, then in his 60s, approached the diocese in 2003.
By that time Royer, who had twice been assigned to St. Bartholomew’s Church in Brockton, had already left the ministry.
• William J. Shields died in 2000, two years before a victim came forward in 2002 to say he had been abused by Shields when he was assigned to St. Ann’s Parish in Lansford from 1969 to 1972. The incident took place when the then teen helped at a parish festival.
A second victim came forward in 2004, to say he too had been abused by Shields while he was assigned to St. Ann’s. That case was shared with the Carbon County District Attorney’s Office.
Shields remained a priest at the time of his death.
• Stephen F. Shigo, who died in 1991, was assigned to St. Ambrose Parish in Schuylkill Haven in 1981. A victim came forward in 2012, at the urging of his father, to say he had been abused when he was an altar boy at St. Ambrose.
• Henry E. Strassner served as senior priest/assistant pastor at St. Jerome’s Church in Tamaqua from 1994 to 2000.
Secret diocesan documents show the church was aware of Strassner’s penchant for young boys as early as 1988. Additional complaints were filed with the church in 1991, 2001, 2004 and 2011. One of the victims provided the diocese with a list of another 25 to 30 possible victims.
Despite all the allegations, Strassner was allowed to retire with a pastor emeritus status in 2003.
He died in 2009.
• Virgil Tetherow, 54, contacted the Scranton Diocese in 1998 in an attempt to establish a Franciscan Friars community in Scranton. The request was approved and the Servants Minor of St. Francis was established in 2001.
In 2005, Pocono Mountain Regional Police received a report concerning pornography on a computer at the rectory. Tetherow was arrested on child pornography charges, to which he pleaded guilty and was placed on probation. He was removed from the clerical state in 2015.
• Bruno Tucci, 76, retired in 2002 and was dismissed from the priesthood in 2007.
The diocese was notified of Tucci’s abuse of children in 1991. He admitted to inappropriately touching a 14-year-old boy, yet was allowed to remain ministering to the congregation of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and Immaculate Conception Church in Nesquehoning until 2002.
His previous assignments included Marian Catholic High School and SS. Peter and Paul’s Church in Lehighton.
• Andrew Aloysius Ulincy, 82, taught at Marian High School in 1966 and 1967.
In 1981, a victim reported being sexually propositioned by Ulincy to Bethlehem Police. Ulincy admitted his actions to police, yet there is no evidence of any charges being filed.
A second case was reported in the early 1990s in Frackville. In that case, the diocese paid the victim $2,500 and transferred Ulincy to the advisory board of Cardinal Brennan High School.
He was removed from active ministry in 2010.