Pennsylvania grand jury report cites WNY priests, Buffalo diocese

Aug 15, 2018

A Pennsylvania Grand Jury report on priest sexual abuse of minors in that state includes two former Western New York priests with accusations against them that weren’t widely known until now.

It also criticizes the Diocese of Buffalo for being aware of abuse, yet continuing to re-assign father Michael Freeman to posts within the diocese.

Accusations against Freeman had been previously disclosed and he is one of 300 priests named in the report issued by Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro Tuesday,  

The Grand Jury report  says that Father Gary Ketcham-- who served in the Buffalo area the 70s and 80s, and Reverend Gabriel Patil who served in the Buffalo-area sometime after 2004- were both convicted out of state on child sexual abuse charges .

Patil is a Barnabite Father who the report says served within the boundaries of the Diocese of Buffalo but not under it's direct control some time after accusations were made in Bethlehem , Pennsylvania.  The report did not say where he served, other than to say he" went on to serve as a priest in Buffalo, NY"  sometime after the accusations reached prosecutors in 2004.  The Allentown Morning call has reported that he was within the boundaries of the Diocese of Buffalo, serving at the Barnabite Fathers' Lady of Fatima Shrine in Lewiston, NY at that time.

Patil was  accused by four students at the Bethlehem Catholic High School during the late 1970's and early 1980's when the victims were seven to nine years old, the report said. 

Ketcham was convicted in 1990 of molesting two boys while on vacation in Alabama the prior year, according to the report. His conviction occurred after his WNY service-- at St. Bonaventure University from September of 1997 through January of 1984, and at St. Patrick's in Buffalo from May 1983 through January of 1984.

The report is also critical of the Buffalo Diocese’s handling of Freeman who served at St Margaret and St. Larence parishes in Buffalo in the early 1970’s and was also at Sacred Heart parish and Bishop Turner High School in Niagara Falls.

Freeman's name was on a list of 42 priests that had previous 'credible accusations" against them, released by the Diocese of Buffalo in March.  He was removed from the priesthood in 1989, while serving in the Diocese of Erie. 

"In five of his six subsequent assignments (after ordination) he admitted inapropriate sexual behavior with young men on multiple occasions," the grand jury report says, adding that Diocese of Buffalo first became aware of Freeman's "criminal activity "in November of 1981, and that the incidents ocurred while he served at both St. Margaret and St. Lawrence parishes. . 

"There’ s no indication the Dioceses of Buffalo or Erie ever notified law enforcement despite his having admitted he sexually violated childen in at least five of his six ministry assignments. Ketchum’s name was on Buffalo’s list of priests with credible accusations against them," the grand jury said.

The Diocese of Buffalo released a statement from Bishop Richard Malone late Thursday, saying that it addresses cases like Freeman's without including just that particular case.

“The Diocese of Buffalo is committed to learning from the sins and crimes of the past and from the ways they were handled. I share in the sense of horror at the magnitude of damage wrought on victims by ministers of the church who, of all people, should be eminently trustworthy. It’s a different church now in the way we respond to any claims of abuse, ” Malone said.  

The grand jury probe was the most extensive investigation of Catholic clergy abuse by any state. Its findings echoed many earlier church investigations around the country, describing widespread sexual abuse and church officials' concealment of it. U.S. bishops have acknowledged that more than 17,000 people nationwide have reported being molested by priests and others in the church.

The grand jury concluded that a succession of Catholic bishops and other diocesan leaders tried to shield the church from bad publicity and financial liability. They failed to report accused clergy to police and sent abusive priests to so-called "treatment facilities," which "laundered" the priests and "permitted hundreds of known offenders to return to ministry," the report said.

Shapiro said the investigation confirmed a "systematic cover-up by senior church officials in Pennsylvania and at the Vatican." The report itself provided scant detail about the Vatican's role, beyond describing a series of confidential reports that bishops made to the Vatican about abusive priests.

The conspiracy of silence extended beyond church grounds. The grand jury said it found cases in which police or prosecutors learned of clergy sex abuse allegations but did not investigate out of deference to church officials.

The report put the number of abusive clergy at more than 300. In nearly all of the cases, the statute of limitations has run out, meaning that criminal charges cannot be filed. More than 100 of the priests are dead, and many others are retired or have been dismissed from the priesthood or put on leave.

The "real number" of abused children might be in the thousands since some secret church records were lost, and victims were afraid to come forward, the grand jury said.

"Priests were raping little boys and girls, and the men of God who were responsible for them not only did nothing. They hid it all," Attorney General Josh Shapiro said at a news conference in Harrisburg.

Most of the Pennsylvania victims were boys, but girls were abused, too, the report said.

The abuse outlined in the report ranged from groping and masturbation to anal, oral and vaginal rape. One boy was forced to say confession to the priest who sexually abused him. A 9-year-old boy was forced to perform oral sex and then had his mouth washed out with holy water. Another boy was made to pose naked as if being crucified and then was photographed by a group of priests who Shapiro said produced and shared child pornography on church grounds.

The grand jury's report comes at a time of renewed scrutiny and fresh scandal at the highest levels of the U.S. Catholic Church. Pope Francis stripped 88-year-old Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of his title and ordered him to a lifetime of prayer and penance amid allegations that McCarrick had for years sexually abused boys and had sexual misconduct with adult seminarians.