At least one priest who had served in North Carolina was named in a scorching Pennsylvania grand jury report on Tuesday criticizing the Catholic Church’s handling of reports of sexual abuse in that state for decades.
The Rev. William Francis Presley is described in the report as a violent predator who insinuated himself into the lives of families for the purpose of getting close enough to their children that he could abuse them.
According to the report, Presley, born in 1929 in Sharon, Pa., was ordained in 1956 and had assignments in Pennsylvania, Indiana and Baltimore before taking a leave of absence in parish ministry in Raleigh from August 1981 to March 1983. He later returned to Pennsylvania, where he retired in 2000. By 2003, church officials said he had been defrocked, based on reports of violence and sexual misconduct that dated back to the 1970s.
An online story by the York Daily Record about the grand jury report says Presley has died; it does not say when.
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The 887-page report released Tuesday by the 40th statewide investigating grand jury is a sweeping condemnation of the Catholic Church within Pennsylvania, where members said they had subpoenaed and reviewed a half-million pages of internal documents from six of the state’s eight dioceses. The dioceses of Philadelphia and Altoona-Johnstown were not included because they were the subject of previous grand juries, the report said.
The group also heard testimony of dozens of witnesses, and said it found “credible allegations against more than three hundred predator priests. Over one thousand child victims were identifiable from the church’s own records. “We believe that the real number — of children whose records were lost, or who were afraid ever to come forward — is in the thousands,” the grand jury said in its introduction.
“There have been other reports about child sex abuse within the Catholic Church,” the grand jury wrote. “But never on this scale. For many of us, those earlier stories happened someplace else, someplace away. Now we know the truth: it happened everywhere.”
The report says that most of the incidents had been covered up so long that the statute of limitations had run out, making it impossible to prosecute. However, the grand jury is pursuing charges against one priest found to have been been sexually assaulting children within the past decade, and said there may be more indictments in the future.
“We are sick over all the crimes that will go unpunished and uncompensated,” the grand jury wrote. “This report is our only recourse. We are going to name their names, and describe what they did — both the sex offenders and those who concealed them. We are going to shine a light on their conduct, because that is what the victims deserve. And we are going to make our recommendations for how the laws should change so that maybe no one will have to conduct another inquiry like this one. We hereby exercise our historical and statutory right as grand jurors to inform the public of our findings. This introduction will briefly describe the sections of the report that follow. We know it is very long. But the only way to fix these problems is to appreciate their scope.”
The report names 301 priests accused of child abuse, with some names redacted because of legal claims by the clergy members.
According to the report, allegations of abuse by William Francis Presley were first made to the Diocese of Erie, Pa., as early as 1987, during his assignment as Pastor of St. Agnes. The charges involved two victims and spanned nearly 16 years. One victim had been abused as recently as 1986, the grand jury found; the second was abused before 1971 while he was a high school student in another parish.
Church officials and Presley held several meetings in early 1988 to discuss the allegations, and the diocese noted that Presley did not directly deny the charges, the report said. However, the grand jury said, it found documents that showed the diocese regularly referred to the victims as “troubled” and having psychological problems.
“There was a consensus amongst diocesan officials that Presley was extremely violent and predisoposed to assaultive behavior,” the grand jury found. Presley agreed to be evaluated by a doctor and was given a series of new assignments, allowing him to work in the church until he retired in 2000.
Reports of his alleged abuse of children surfaced publicly when the Boston Globe wrote about the sexual abuse scandal in January 2002, and in April of that year, the report said, three victims came forward to tell Donald Trautman, who served as bishop of Erie from June 1990 to July 2012, that Presley had abused them from 1963 to 1974. One of them, the report says, was 13 years old when the assault occurred.
The grand jury found that in discussing Presley’s case in a press release in 2003, Trautman made false and misleading statements about the abuse, the age and number of victims, and when it had learned of the assaults.
“Moreover, the Diocese was aware of sexual abuse complaints against Presley as early as 1987 but permitted him to stay in active ministry for another thirteen years.,” the report says. “Additionally, Diocesan records showed that Presley was so violent that priests who interacted with him were concerned for their safety.”
In fact, the report says, church documents described Presley as a “hardcore predator” whose “”behavior was carefully planned behavior. ... Victimization didn’t happen spontaneously; it was programmed, masterfully designed, almost perfectly executed.”
The report says that Trautman and other church officials deliberately took their time dealing with the allegations against Presley in order to allow the statute of limitations to expire on any criminal acts.
On Monday, Luis Rafael Zarama, bishop of Raleigh, shared on the diocese’s website an Aug. 9 statement from Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory in the Ecclesiastical Province of Atlanta, of which the Raleigh Diocese is a member. The statement is Gregory’s response to the resignation on July 27 of Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington, from the College of Cardinals in Rome, after allegations arose that McCarrick had sexually abused children and adult seminarians for decades.
Pope Francis accepted the resignation, which The New York Times said appeared to be the first in history from the College of Cardinals because of sexual abuse allegations.
McCarrick remains a priest pending the outcome of a trial by the Vatican.
Gregory’s statement said he is angry, sad and distressed about sexual abuse allegations in the church and by church leaders’ failure to protect others and to hold perpetrators accountable.
Sharing the statement, Zarama said only, “I join with my fellow bishops in praying that our Church and our leadership will be renewed and transformed by the light of Christ and have the courage to take the necessary next steps.”