Abuser Priest Got OK to Work
Bishop Saltarelli Granted 'Rare Exception' to Cleric Who Pleaded Guilty to Assault in '82

By Beth Miller and Steven Church
News Journal [Wilmington Delaware]
October 1, 2005

Bishop Michael Saltarelli made a "rare exception" to the diocese's 1985 ban on sexual abusers in ministry when he permitted convicted abuser Robert Hermley to work at the Little Sisters of the Poor retirement community near Newark in 2002, officials of the Catholic Diocese of Wilmington said Friday.

Hermley pleaded guilty in 1982 to indecent assault on two Philadelphia boys, ages 13 and 14, after he was arrested while watching an X-rated movie with them at a drive-in theater in Trevose, Pa. At the time, he was director of college guidance at Padua Academy, an all-girls high school in Wilmington.

Hermley did not respond to a request for an interview. A man who answered the phone at his retirement residence said Hermley would not comment.

In 2001, officials of Hermley's religious order, the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales, asked Saltarelli to grant permission for the then-74-year-old priest to return to ministry at the Little Sisters of the Poor on Salem Church Road. At the same time, they told the diocese about Hermley's past conviction - the first the diocese knew of it, according to spokesman Robert Krebs.

"He was granted permission to live there and to do some limited chaplaincy work," Krebs said. "Because of the nature of the situation, it was a rare exception to the policy. ... Due to the nature of the ministry, his age, the fact that he was residing at the home, the needs of the home - all those things were considered."

Krebs said he did not know if the complex's proximity to Christiana High School was considered when the exception was made. Officials from the Little Sisters of the Poor did not return calls.

Krebs said the diocese does not know how Hermley came to be co-leader at a public 2002 service of thanksgiving, held in a diocesan parish, except to note that the service was not sponsored by the diocese.

"I don't know if he was overstepping his boundaries there," Krebs said.

Beth Trapani, spokeswoman for the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales, said Hermley, who now lives in the Oblates' retirement facility at Childs, Md., was not working with children during his two years in Newark, but only with retired residents.

Oblate leaders were open with the diocese about Hermley's background, she said, as is their policy whenever one of their priests moves into a new diocese. The Oblates are an autonomous religious order of men who run Salesianum School in Wilmington. Religious order priests often serve as teachers and missionaries and normally report to the head of their order instead of a bishop. There are 96 order priests and 122 diocesan priests within the Wilmington Diocese, which includes about 220,000 parishioners throughout Delaware and the Eastern Shore of Maryland.

"The Oblates today are extremely careful to address any of these issues appropriately," Trapani said. "They take seriously any allegations of sexual abuse or misconduct."

Policy since 1985

Diocese officials say they have had a policy since 1985, when Bishop Robert Mulvee was appointed, not to permit priests with credible allegations of sexual abuse to remain in ministry. The policy was strengthened after the sexual abuse scandal made national headlines in 2002, prompting a demand for greater accountability, along with protection for children and youths in the Catholic community. The Wilmington Diocese published a new policy called "For the Sake of God's Children," incorporating strict regulations about the supervision of children, mandating criminal background checks and establishing other protections.

"We're fortunate with bishops Saltarelli and Mulvee that they face this problem head-on and they've dealt with it," Krebs said. "I'm not saying others before them haven't dealt with it. ..."

Diocese officials have repeatedly refused to divulge the complete list of 26 priests they say have had credible allegations of sexual abuse made against them. The list does not include Hermley, Krebs said, because his abuse was reported by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

The diocese has acknowledged paying more than $1.6 million to settle victims' claims.

Krebs released a few other details Friday about the ministry history of the Rev. Joseph A. McGovern, who was removed from ministry after credible allegations were made against him in 1986. At the time, McGovern was associate pastor at St. John's-Holy Angels parish in Newark. His removal ended seven years of ministry that included parishes in Salisbury, Md., Cambridge, Md., Wilmington and Newark.

Krebs said he believes McGovern still lives in Philadelphia, where he was in 1990 when the Archdiocese of Philadelphia discovered he was celebrating Mass despite the fact he was not in good standing with the Wilmington Diocese. McGovern receives a monthly allowance from the Wilmington Diocese, Krebs said, but he would not divulge the amount. The diocese no longer supervises McGovern's actions, Krebs said.

Wants explanation

Ed Burke, who attends Mass at St. John's-Holy Angels, believes the diocese should explain to parishioners why McGovern - or any priest - suddenly vanishes. Burke, of Avondale, Pa., was abused by a priest in Iowa in the 1940s.

"My problem with the hierarchy is that they move these guys out in the middle of the night," Burke said. "If they are pedophiles, they have a responsibility to alert the families in that parish. If your son or daughter is there, you need to find out - do they need help? You need to ask them, OWas he ever out of line with you?' But they just whisk them away."

Contact Beth Miller at 324-2784 or
Contact Steven Church at 324-2786 or


The Rev. Robert Hermley

June 4, 1955 Ordained in Wilmington. Member of Oblates of St. Francis de Sales

(Dates unknown) Our Lady of Fatima Church, Bensalem, Pa.

1966-78 Father Judge High School for Boys, Philadelphia

1978-80 Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church, Seaside Heights, N.J.

1980-82 Padua Academy, Wilmington

November 1982 Pleaded guilty to indecent assault

Dec. 7, 1982 Assigned to Our Lady of Good Counsel Church, Vienna, Va.

Nov. 12, 1991 Assigned to St. Mary Church, Fredericksburg, Va.

May 1992 Seton Home School (chaplain, curriculum consultant), Arlington Va.

2001 Oblates contact Catholic Diocese of Wilmington, requesting permission for Hermley to return to the Diocese of Wilmington to minister at Little Sisters of the Poor, Newark

2002-2003 Little Sisters of the Poor, chaplain, Newark

Date in Dispute: 2003 (OSFS) or Feb. 23, 2005 (grand-jury report). Assigned to DeSales Centre, Childs, Md.

The Rev. Joseph A. McGovern

January 1979 Ordained by Catholic Diocese of Wilmington. Assigned to St. Francis de Sales, Salisbury, Md.

June 1979 Assigned to St. Mary's Refuge of Sinners, Cambridge, Md.

November 1980 Assigned to St. Catherine of Siena, Wilmington

June 1983 Assigned to St. John's-Holy Angels, Newark

March 1986 Removed from ministry after credible allegations of sexual abuse of minors

1987-90 Residence at Holy Angels Church, Philadelphia

1990-2005 Whereabouts undisclosed

Sources: Catholic Diocese of Wilmington; News Journal archives; Oblates of St. Francis de Sales, grand jury report of Philadelphia District Attorney's Office


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