Foulk Too Much Time Has Elapsed

By Ed Palattella
Erie Times-News (PA)
April 23, 2002

District Attorney Brad Foulk has determined that too much time has passed to prosecute any of the allegations of child sexual abuse made against Catholic priests in Erie over the past 40 years.

Foulk made that determination after reviewing information about the priests that Erie Catholic Bishop Donald W. Trautman turned over to Foulk's office on Monday. All but one of the cases involved allegations of sexual abuse of minors.

Foulk said the information showed that "less than a dozen" priests faced sex-abuse allegations over the past 40 years. He said the most recent allegation came in the mid-1980s, placing all the cases beyond the statute of limitations in Pennsylvania.

"We are satisfied that the diocese, through the bishop, has produced all of the files, all of the allegations reported to them, as far back as you can count," Foulk said. "Some of these allegations are 20, 30, 40 years old.

"We have determined that, based upon the information we have available now, there are no prosecutable cases in the diocese of Erie."

Foulk commented as he sat alongside Trautman at a news conference the two held after nearly two hours of meetings on Monday. Trautman gave summaries of the cases to Foulk in the morning at the diocesan headquarters, St. Mark Center on East Grandview Boulevard, and Foulk went to the Erie County Courthouse to review the information with his staff. Foulk returned to Trautman's office at 1:10 p.m., met with him for close to 30 minutes more, and then announced his findings at the news conference.

"It is my understanding that disclosure has been complete," Foulk said. "It is my understanding that the search of the records has been exhaustive as it could possibly be. I believe we asked the right questions. I believe the bishop supplied us with the answers to our questions."

Monday's session came a week after Foulk and Trautman first met to discuss how the 13-county Catholic Diocese of Erie has handled cases of priests accused of sexually abusing minors or others. Foulk asked for the first meeting after Trautman on April 10 told the Erie Times-News that this year he had removed "a couple" of priests from active ministry because of sexual misconduct with minors decades ago.

Trautman initially balked at turning over any information to Foulk on the grounds of the confidentiality of personnel records. The two reached a compromise on Monday when Trautman provided "case memos" on the files of all the priests in the diocese known to be accused of sexual abuse as long as 40 years ago.

Foulk said Trautman did not provide the names of the priests removed this year. But Foulk said he knew the names before he met with Trautman, and that he was able to link those names to the correct files.

"There was no effort by the bishop or the diocese to in any way cover up those names or not have a free exchange of information," Foulk said. "The bishop, in my opinion, gave us everything he possibly could without breaching any confidentiality rules so we were in a position to identify accurately who we were both talking about."

Foulk and Trautman declined to release the names of any of the priests. Foulk said the information the diocese disclosed showed him that the priests are not in a position where they would "present a danger to the children of the community."

Foulk also said he was reluctant to release the names because he said all but one or two of the priests had never been prosecuted. He said many of the priests are dead or no longer living in the diocese, which serves 235,000 Roman Catholics in northwestern Pennsylvania.

There are "no new allegations," Trautman said of the priests. "For 20 some years, they have led a good life, reformed their life, been restored and been healed."

Current Pennsylvania law states that police must charge within child sex-abuse cases no later than five years after the minor victim turns 18.

Foulk said the most recent case, in 1985, was against the Rev. John L. Murray, who pleaded no contest to charges that he fondled a 12-year-old altar boy at St. Matthew-in-the-Woods Catholic Church, 1390 Townhall Road W., in May 1985.

Murray, then 62, pleaded no contest to two misdemeanor charges and was sentenced to a year of probation, according to court records. He was last known to be living in Philadelphia, and the Erie diocese on Monday was uncertain about his status as a priest.

Foulk said one of the cases he reviewed involved sexual misconduct with an adult. He said he reviewed cases that involved only Erie County, the home to 100,000 of the diocese's Catholics and the bulk of its 190 active and 62 retired priests.

Trautman said he knows of no allegations against any priest in any diocesan county over incidents that might have happened since he was appointed head of the Erie diocese in June 1990.

Trautman and Foulk acknowledged that previous bishops might not have called the police about allegations that occurred under their watches. Foulk said the diocese now would go immediately to the District Attorney's Office with abuse allegations. Trautman said that is in line with a 1995 diocesan policy.

"We have agreed upon ... a complete disclosure for future cases whereby if anyone comes to the bishop, to the diocese, with an allegation of alleged sexual abuse of children, it will be reported to our child abuse unit," Foulk said. "Likewise, if we obtain information, we are going to immediately (notify) the bishop. The bishop will address it. We will have a complete and free exchange of information in the future, no conditions attached."

Trautman was asked if that was different from his predecessor's policies.

"Definitely," he said. "But you have to remember you can't use the criteria of today ... and apply it to 20, 30, 40 years ago. This is not fair to the leaders of that time."

Erie Catholic Bishop Michael Murphy, who served from 1982 through June 1990, could not be reached for comment. All the other bishops of Erie are dead, including Murphy's predecessor, Bishop Alfred Watson, who died Jan. 4., 1990.

Trautman on March 8 changed Murphy's policy and said priests with credible accusations of child sexual abuse against them would be removed from active ministry even if they had been "grandfathered" and allowed to perform limited functions under Murphy. Trautman in 1993 added a new policy that eliminated restrictive ministry for abusive priests altogether.

Trautman said the recent nationwide publicity over sexually abusive priests played a part in his changing the policy. He said he has also changed the policies for abusive priests "because of new insights into the state law itself, the nature of child-abuse behavior and the climate of the day as well."

Foulk cited changing times too. He was asked whether any of the cases he looked at could have been prosecuted had the allegations been reported within the statute of limitations at the time.

"Could've, would've, should've," Foulk said. "Based upon our review, there were cases that probably would have been investigated differently and handled differently, whether it be by the diocese or the District Attorney's Office.

"Over the last decade or so, I think, child abuse has come to the forefront, not only because of the conflict within the church now, but from a prosecution standpoint, we concentrate heavily on child-abuse cases now."


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