Mullane: Priest suspect in '62 child murder not in AG's report

By JD Mullane
Bucks County Courier Times
August 26, 2018


Joseph Sabadish, a Catholic priest, was a prime suspect in the 1962 rape and strangulation of Carol Ann Dougherty, 9, in St. Mark Church in Bristol.

Of the 301 Catholic clergy named as alleged sexual predators in a Pennsylvania grand jury report, one name is missing — Joseph Sabadish.

Sabadish was a priest in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia who became a prime suspect in the October 1962 murder of Carol Ann Dougherty, 9. Carol, a fifth-grader at St. Mark School in Bristol, was found on a stair landing leading to the church choir loft.

His name is absent from the report, though a deputy attorney general and an AG criminal investigator interviewed one of the Sabadish’s accusers in September 2016.

That accuser, Stephanie Bartek, of Bethlehem, told me she spoke with the investigators for almost three hours about Sabadish. She said she described for them how he molested her at his mother’s house in Branchdale, the tiny upstate town where Sabadish grew up. The assaults occurred in the late 1970s and early 1980s, beginning when she was about 4, she said.

“It messed me up,” she said. “I wanted to die, my whole life, I wanted to die. I made my first will when I was 7 years old.”

Sabadish became friendly with Bartek’s grandmother when he was assistant pastor at Sacred Heart Church in Bethlehem. He was frequently at her grandmother’s house. He even went on vacation with the family to Wildwood, she said.

She would be taken on trips to the home of Sabadish’s mother in Branchdale, a tiny town in Schuylkill County.

“I remember that house,” Bartek said. “To the right was a room with a little bed and he was laying there butt naked in the bed. It was him in the bed telling me this is how you show God’s love, to make him feel better. He’d say, ‘Don’t you love me? Don’t you want to show God your love for him?’”

“It was evil,” she said.

The account is similar to those of Joan McCrane and her brother, Bill, who told me that Sabadish had molested them as children when they were parishioners at St. Michael the Archangel Church in Tullytown in the early 1960s. McCrane testified before a Philadelphia grand jury about predator priests. Her testimony was deemed credible and Sabadish was listed among the priests in DA Lynne Abraham’s shocking 2005 report.

Why Sabadish’s name does not appear in the grand jury report issued Aug. 15 by Attorney General Josh Shapiro is unclear. The investigation looked at predator priests and cover-ups by bishops in six of Pennsylvania’s eight diocese, including Allentown, where Bartek was a parishioner at Sacred Heart Church in Miller Heights.

Shapiro’s office would not comment. Asked if Sabadish is among the handful of priests whose names have been redacted from the grand jury report, a spokeswoman declined comment.

According to press accounts, the redactions were requested by still living clergy who have challenged their accusers’ stories. The state Supreme Court agreed, and blacked out their names. Sabadish could not make such a request. He died at age 81 in 1999.

A source in the AG’s office said Shapiro will ask the state Supreme Court to lift the redactions next month.

Sabadish was first revealed as a prime suspect in the Dougherty murder in a series I wrote for Bucks County Courier Times in 1992. It was based on the murder file, which I was permitted to see by then-police Chief Frank Peranteau. The file and my interviews with investigators who had worked the case showed that Sabadish could not account for his whereabouts at the time of the murder on the afternoon of Oct. 22, 1962. He was polygraphed by the Bucks County DA, passed, and was not questioned again.

I interviewed Sabadish about this in 1992. His memory was faulty on details, he said.

A list of Sabadish’s parish assignments between March 1945 and February 1999 show he was moved by the archdiocese at least 16 times. He served as assistant pastor at three Lower Bucks parishes: St. Mike’s in Levittown (1957-1962), St. Mark in Bristol (1962-1967) and St. Thomas Aquinas in Croydon (1974-1976).

The log, obtained from archdiocesan files, notes that after leaving St. Thomas Aquinas, Sabadish had his priestly “faculties restricted” by the archdiocese, and that he was living in an undisclosed “private residence” between February 1976 through October 1979. That period partially covers the time Stephanie Bartek said he molested her at his mother’s house in Branchdale.

Sabadish had his priestly duties restricted again from October 1985 to August 1986 after serving as an assistant pastor at SS. Philip and James in Exton.

According to Catholic canon law, a priest can have his faculties restricted for disobedience to a superior, openly opposing church teachings, or engaging in crimes or illicit sexual activities, among other reasons.

The parish assignments log also notes that Sabadish took two leaves of absence. The first came after serving as assistant pastor at St. Timothy Church in Philadelphia. From March to June 1974 he is listed as a “resident” of the St. John Vianney Center in Downingtown, which ministers to clergy suffering “addictive disease and compulsive behaviors” and “severe and persistent behavioral health problems,” according to its website.

The second leave came after he served as an assistant pastor at St. Robert Church in Chester. He left the Archdiocese of Philadelphia to live at Holy Trinity Church in Baltimore, Maryland, from April to July 1982.

I called the archdiocese for details on Sabadish’s leaves of absence and restrictions. I didn’t get any. Spokesman Ken Gavin said in a written statement that restrictions and leaves of absence occur when there’s “an allegation of abuse or other violation of the standards of ministerial behavior and boundaries. Any alleged criminal activity is reported to law enforcement.” Right.

He added: “The Archdiocese did not receive any allegation that (Sabadish) sexually abused a minor until after his death.” Right.

My 1992 series resulted in a re-investigation of the case by Bristol police and a county grand jury, but no charges resulted.

Carol Dougherty’s murder remains unsolved.

JD Mullane can be reached at 215-949-5745 or at














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