Diocese responds to accusation against 'Dancing Priest'

By Peter Smith
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
December 29, 2018

The Rev. Thomas Smith, known as the “Singing and Dancing Priest” for his Broadway-seasoned “theatrical evangelism,” is now among the latest subjects of allegations of sexual misconduct in the Catholic Church.

The Diocese of Pittsburgh sent letters this month to various parishes where the late Father Smith served, informing them of an allegation of sexual abuse against the priest, who died in 2015 at age 90.

During one of the listening sessions held by Pittsburgh Bishop David Zubik in early December in response to the grand jury report on sexual abuse by Catholic priests, one of the attendees who spoke identified him as her abuser.

She said the abuse happened in 1967, when she was about 15 or 16 years old and a student at St. Anselm High School in Swissvale, where Father Smith worked as a priest.

At a school dance, when the lights were lowered for a slow dance, she said that “Father Tom Smith, the dancing priest who everybody thought was such a great person, came up and grabbed my breasts and played with them. ... I was stunned.

“Could I go back and tell my mother the priest molested me?” she said. “No.” Her father had recently died, and her mother was coping with grief while also taking care of her brother, who was ill. 

She said during that trying time, she had, until the incident, found a refuge at the school. “What he did was he took away my safe place.”

She identified herself by her full name at the hearing. In a follow-up phone interview, she asked to go by her first name and initial, Denise S., for this article to spare any embarrassment to her relatives.

The Rev. Nicholas Vaskov, spokesman for the Diocese of Pittsburgh, said the diocese notified parishes where Father Smith served during the week of Dec. 16-22.

This is the first time anyone has alleged child sexual abuse by Father Smith, he said.

It is diocesan protocol to turn all allegations over to the local district attorney, to notify parishes where a priest has served of the allegation and to offer resources such as counseling.

Denise said the diocese did contact her and asked if she wanted funding for counseling.

She said she replied, “No I don’t need counseling. I just don’t want him lauded as a saint.”

Father Smith started out in a career on the stage, performing at clubs in New York City before entering seminary. He continued to perform while based at a McKeesport parish, in local nightclubs, at church dinners and church fundraisers into the 1990s. He appeared on television, including David Letterman’s show and Mike Douglas’ daytime show, and was the subject of newspaper articles and a 1981 People magazine feature.

Diocesan policy has evolved over the years. In recent years, when there are accusations against priests, the diocese announces the allegation, turns it over to prosecutors, alerts the parishes to which he was assigned and asks anyone to come forward with any pertinent information about abuse by anyone.

Since the August release of a grand jury report, the Pittsburgh diocese publicly reported an allegation of sexual misconduct against the late Bishop Anthony Bosco from the 1960s, when he was still working here and before he had become bishop of Greensburg.



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