WARNING: Some of the content of this article may be graphic in nature and offensive to the reader.
HARRISBURG – According to a State Grand Jury report following a two-year investigation into alleged sexual abuse, two priests who served in Warren had long histories of rape and abuse of minors and the Erie Diocese knew about it and covered it up for a period of years.
Father Thomas Smith, who started his tenure at St. Joseph Church in Warren, in 1987, had allegations against him as early as 1984, according to the report.
Smith was ordained in 1967. In 1981 he was assigned to Saint Mary of the Assumption. Bishop Michael Murphy was first told of child sexual abuse perpetrated by Smith against a 17-year-old boy in January 1984 while at Saint Mary’s. Smith resigned January 20, 1984.
“From February 1984 to October 1984, Smith was placed on “health leave.” In reality, he was in residential psychological therapy. In October, Smith was released and reassigned by Murphy to Saint Joseph’s in DuBois until February 1985. In February 1985, Smith was transferred to Saint Hippolyte in Guys Mills for approximately one month,” the report said. “From March 1985 to August 1985, Murphy sent Smith to residential psychological therapy once again. Official Diocesan records obtained by the Grand Jury show this was designated as a leave of absence. Upon his release, Smith was sent to Saint Joseph’s in Mount Jewett in August 1985. After about one month at Saint Joseph’s, Smith was transferred to Saint Teresa in Union City,
where he remained for approximately 10 months.”
The jury noted that Murphy, with knowledge of the allegations, continued to allow Smith to have contact with children.
“In December 1986, Smith was placed on a leave of absence yet again. This leave of absence continued for almost a year while Smith was returned to residential psychological therapy. In January 1987, Diocesan records indicated that the treatment facility informed Murphy that Smith suffered from a “driven, compulsive, and long-standing” obsession with sexually assaulting children. The facility warned that since his first treatment in 1984, Smith had not stopped sexually assaulting children and that interdiction was needed,” the report noted.
A subpoena of the diocese “secret file” revealed that Smith admitted to molesting and raping at least 15 children.
“Smith stated that all of his victims were boys, some as young as seven. Smith had raped them anally and orally. This information was provided to Murphy in November 1987. That same month, Smith was discharged from the facility,” according to the report. “In spite of Smith’s confession to sexually violating at least fifteen prepubescent boys, Murphy assigned Smith to the parish of Saint Joseph’s in Warren on December 7, 1987.”
In March of 1988, Father Glenn Whitman wrote a letter to Smith advising him of recent conduct that placed him in violation of his aftercare agreement with St. Luke’s Institute. Regardless, Smith continued in ministry at Saint Joseph’s with the approval of Murphy and Bishop Donald Trautman.
On July 25, 1990, Whitman wrote a memo to Trautman and noted two known parishes impacted by Smith’s actions. He also noted the number of victims “is not clearly known.”
“The same day, Trautman wrote his own memo regarding Smith. In this document, Trautman wrote that he had met with Smith about his problems and that Smith was a person of “candor and sincerity,” the report said. Trautman noted that after another year and a half he would consider a new assignment for Smith because he wanted Smith to complete his aftercare and was fearful of future litigation.”
The Jury found that Smith was so relieved to find a refuge in Trautman that he wrote to him on July 17, 1990 regarding the aforementioned meeting. He thanked Trautman for truly caring about him. In reference to his desire to stay in active ministry, Smith wrote, “And so why did I worry?”
On July 20, 1992, Smith was transferred to the Holy Rosary Parish in Erie by Trautman. Smith was very active in the “Isaiah 43” ministry program, a program for Catholic children.
In 1993, Trautman received a letter from a family alleging abuse of their son.
“Dated September 20, 1993, the letter was from the parents of one of Smith’s victims. They described the abuse suffered by their son when he was only nine years old. Trautman wrote to St. Luke’s Institute, one of Smith’s treatment providers, and requested information as to the future ministry of Smith. Among other things, Trautman noted that he was “worried about appearances” and that “Father Smith does participate in the Isaiah 43 Program which takes him outside of the Diocese. I have no supervision of his activity away from the Diocese; it is an act of trust in him.”
Trautman explained his sudden interest in Smith’s activities, stating, “The mother of this individual has raised concerns about Father Smith’s involvement in Isaiah 43 since there are youth present for this type of retreat,” the report said.
According to the report, St. Luke’s Institute responded on December 28, 1993. Trautman was informed that Smith had failed to report his involvement with the Isaiah 43 program as part of his continued aftercare. Trautman sent a letter to Smith and informed him that his duties at Holy Rosary would be altered. However, Trautman allowed Smith to remain in the Isaiah 43 program until he completed his duties there in March 1994.
“The church bulletin for the Holy Rosary Parish, January 1994, announced the assignment of Smith, Parochial Vicar, to several chaplaincy positions in the Erie area beginning at the end of March 1994 and noted that Smith would remain in residence at Holy Rosary with the title of Resident and Weekend Assistant. This assignment permitted Smith to roam freely about the Diocese, serving as a chaplain with all the authority and power of the priesthood,” the report said. “Moreover, he continued to be a friendly face in residence at the parish and a weekend assistant. Nowhere in the bulletin was it indicated that Trautman notified the parishioners that Smith had been in treatment since 1984 due to sexually abusing children, nor was it noted that Smith admitted to such conduct with as many as fifteen boys in 1987. Nowhere did it warn that the Diocese was aware that he had re-offended and that the offenses included anal and oral sex with prepubescent boys. These warnings were conspicuously absent because Trautman failed to warn his own parishioners of the danger Smith posed to their children.”
Later that month, all Pennsylvania Bishops received a confidential letter from the Most Reverend Joseph V. Adamec, Bishop of the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown. Adamec and the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown were involved in a litigation of child sexual abuse offenses perpetrated by Father Francis Luddy.
“In Adamec’s letter to the other Bishops, he explained the steps he had taken to protect the secret archives from litigation. Notations on the document appear to indicate that Trautman took note of Diocesan records which Adamec was forced to disclose, and that the Diocese’s motions in the case, such as seeking bifurcation, jury sequestration, and to dismiss based on a “time bar,” were being denied,” the report indicates.
Smith, unhappy with his current assignment according to the report, “sought a reprieve from Murphy, his first enabler. Murphy, now retired, reached out to Trautman on behalf of Smith and another priest seeking greater leniency. Trautman responded by letter on May 6, 1994. Trautman explained that he had not been overly restrictive but that the Diocese could not adopt a “posture” less than what Pittsburgh had done. The Grand Jury noted that Trautman did not cite to the evils of child sexual abuse as the external pressure which warranted the restriction of offending priests. Rather, Trautman provided Murphy a copy of an article from Time Magazine on “this problem” and stated that “[t]he article is vicious and demonstrates, once again, the need for vigilance on the part of the church.”
Smith served as a chaplain as described in the Holy Rosary church bulletin until his retirement in March 2002. In April 1996, according to the Jury findings, Smith wrote to Trautman and asked to be appointed to the board of the local YMCA, as well as to be returned to the Isaiah 43 program.
Trautman was aware that Smith continued to seek contact with children and elected not to warn anyone.
In January, 2002, Trautman, forced by national coverage of the Boston abuse scandal, fielded letters from concerned parishioners and answer inquiries from the local press.
“On January 31, 2002, Trautman wrote to parents of one of Smith’s victims and stated, “I believe appropriate action has been taken in the fact that there is no parish assignment and there is a definite curtailing of his ministry.” On March 15, 2002, Trautman gave an interview to a news
reporter and stated, “we have no priest or deacon or layperson that I know of that has, in any way, a pedophile background.” Smith retired that same month and was still a Roman Catholic priest,” the report said.
By April 2002, victims started the litigation process in connection with past abuses.
“In a letter dated April 24, 2002, from counsel for the Diocese to the attorney for one of Smith’s victims, the following statement was made:… it must be understood that we cannot simply write checks because an event occurred 20, 30, or 40 years ago, but we must limit our assistance to rehabilitation and encourage people such as your client to attempt to put the past behind them and move on with their lives,” the report said
According to the report, a February 26, 2003, memo by Trautman documented that Smith had obtained employment as a counselor at “Turning
Point” and that Trautman had relied on Smith’s word that he disclosed his past abuses as part of his employment.
Trautman wrote a memo on July 22, 2003, claiming that Turning Point had made a complaint. Smith had never disclosed his history of child sexual abuse offenses to them. Trautman documented that “I felt he had made a complete recovery from alcoholism and sexual abuse. He
had been faithful to his treatment program and gives every indication of having taken full responsibility for his actions.”
“Under public pressure, Trautman submitted a formal request to the Vatican on November 10, 2004, and requested the laicization of Smith. Now that Trautman needed a basis to remove Smith from the priesthood he acted with candor. Contrary to nearly every one of Trautman’s previous statements regarding Smith, Trautman now disclosed his knowledge to the Vatican in a confidential letter,” the Jury report disclosed. “Trautman admitted that the Diocese of Erie had been aware of Smith’s abuses since at least 1987. Trautman disclosed that Smith abused boys between 7 and 12 years of age.
He described Smith’s acts as chilling and noted that Smith used physical force to bring about the offenses and threats to secure the secrecy of his crimes. Trautman wrote that Smith invoked the name of God to justify his actions against his victims while using their faith and the priesthood to
manipulate them and secure their silence. Trautman noted that, even after Smith was told to avoid any and all occasions that would place him in the company of minors, he continued to do so in a public manner.”
“Trautman summarized Smith’s worldview and stated that he saw his victims as objects rather than people. The Vatican finally acted in 2006 and removed Smith from the priesthood. Smith’s former flock was never told the reason for his removal. On August 3, 2006, Trautman directed the pastor
of St. Hippolyte to make the following notation in the record of the parish with respect to Smith: “Dismissed from the clerical state on June 10, 2006 by Pope Benedict XVI. Nothing else need be noted.”
Smith was not the only Warren-based priest to face allegations and cover-up, according to the Grand Jury.
Father Salvatore P. Luzzi, who was ordained in 1962, was at St. Joseph’s starting in 1979.
“Over the course of his 30 year ministry, he was accused of sexual misconduct by eight male victims ranging in age from early teens to early twenties. Some of these victims were groped, inappropriately kissed, hugged, and/or fondled. He also faced allegations of responsibility for the suicide of a former student/victim,” the report said.
“Luzzi worked extensively with young would-be priests at St. Mark’s where he and fellow priest Leon Muroski served as Spiritual Directors to the seminarians. Luzzi’s inappropriate touching and fondling of at least two seminarians prompted the Diocese to settle with those seminarians for large sums of money. The first former Seminarian’s case was settled in civil court for $34,500 and this individual received several thousand dollars over the course of the many years that the Diocese paid for his counseling and medication costs,” the Grand Jury report indicates.
Several other former juvenile victims received letters or phone calls of apology from the Diocese. These victims were counseled by the Diocese through correspondence or in-person interviews wherein Luzzi’s behavior was dismissed as just “Sal’s way of expressing himself” and his “touching approach” to ministry was attributed to his Italian upbringing, the report said.
The report determined that in In 1974-1975, Luzzi and Father Leon Muroski were working at Camp Notre Dame in Fairview when a young seminarian named Michael Amy was accused of fondling two juveniles. These victims reported the incident to the Pennsylvania State Police, the Diocese of Erie, and to their parents. The Diocese representative for this incident at Camp Notre Dame was Father Lawrence Speice. Speice assisted Amy by interceding on Amy’s behalf with the State Police and the boys’ parents. The Grand Jury report said no arrest was made. Luzzi and Muroski dealt with Amy by making him attend counselling and keeping him in seminary. Amy would go on to abuse at least two more juveniles, along with several other unidentified juvenile prostitutes as an ordained priest prior to being laicized.
“During Amy’s laicization process, he called Speice, Muroski and Luzzi as his witnesses. Muroski denied knowledge of any wrongdoings by Amy. Speice and Luzzi both admitted some knowledge of Amy’s molestation of children in 1974-1975. Luzzi wrote on Amy’s Witness Statement that he was “amazed that he was made a pastor in a place where something happened before,” and that “there certainly should have been something in his Seminary day files.” Luzzi added, “I personally wondered when these things would resurface,” the Jury noted.
In 1994, Trautman sent both Luzzi and Muroski to St. Luke’s Institute for therapy. The Diocese publicly announced that Luzzi was going on an extended sabbatical for “personal, spiritual and academic growth.” Once Luzzi was discharged, the Bishop welcomed him back into pastoral ministry by letter on February 14, 1995. However, the welcome also came with several conditions and a Penial Precept, a formal notification in the church that restricts ministry.
Trautman directed Luzzi to refrain from all contact with youth under 19 years of age and to avoid travel and social interaction with such parishioners. Later that same year, in September 1995, Trautman had Luzzi’s faculties as a priest removed and Luzzi began residing in a private residence, where he remains today, according to the Grand Jury findings.
The report goes on to say “It was Luzzi’s position that Trautman forced him to retire. It was the position of Trautman and the Diocese that what led to Luzzi’s resignation was the weight of new allegations and the real possibility of widespread publicity. It was found in subpoenaed files that Luzzi’s
accusers threatened to take “appropriate steps” if Luzzi was not removed from ministry. This information was found in an internal document written by Monsignor Robert Smith and placed into Luzzi’s file on October 12, 1995. Smith and Trautman informed Luzzi that if he did not retire of his own free will, the Diocese would follow the canonical process specified in church law to remove Luzzi. Luzzi resigned less than 30 days later.”
The Grand Jury also noted “the Grand Jury received evidence that several Diocesan administrators, including the Bishops, often dissuaded victims from reporting abuse to police, pressured law enforcement to terminate or avoid an investigation, or conducted their own deficient, biased investigating without reporting crimes against children to the proper authorities.”
This is part two of a four part series.
WARNING: Some of the content of this article may be graphic in nature and offensive to the reader.