At least 7 Pennsylvania priests accused of sex abuse were sent to Toronto-area clergy rehab

Among the hundreds of Pennsylvania priests accused of molesting children in a grand jury report released this week, at least seven were sent to a Toronto-area facility for treatment. But in some cases, the report says, the church ignored the facility's advice about keeping them away from kids.

Grand jury report also documents cases of abuse involving Pa. priests alleged to have occurred in Canada

A grand jury report claims to document seven decades of child sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests in Pennsylvania. It says church officials allowed priests to continue restricted or regular duties despite credible allegations of abuse. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

In 1984, shortly after admitting to sexually molesting a 14-year-old child, Rev. John Connor of Pennsylvania was sent to a Toronto-area facility that helps clergy deal with addictions, mental-health issues and sexual disorders.

After eight months of treatment at the Southdown Institute, officials there warned the church that Connor should not be put in a position where he would have responsibility for adolescents. Yet the church seemed to ignore the institute's advice, and would later assign Connor to a parish in Conshohocken, Pa., with a grade school and encourage him to "educate youth."

These allegations are found in the more than 1,300 pages of an explosive grand jury report released Tuesday that claims hundreds of Roman Catholic priests in Pennsylvania engaged in sexual abuse since the 1940s.

Of the victims, more than 1,000 were children, but that total could be thousands more, the grand jury concluded.

Within the report are several Canadian connections, including a few cases where abuse is said to have occurred on Canadian soil.

The report says at least seven Pennsylvania priests were sent to Southdown for treatment. But the institute's assessment of some of those priests — that they should never be near children — didn't seem to deter the church from allowing them to continue to play a role in church activities.

Southdown is a rehab centre for priests located about 65 kilometres north of Toronto in Holland Landing. It moved from its old location in nearby Aurora in 2013.

It has a team of psychologists and psychiatrists who mostly deal with clergy suffering from issues such as alcoholism and depression. But some priests have also been treated there for molesting children.

The grand jury report says in Connor's case, he never went to trial because church lawyers negotiated an agreement to have his record of arrest erased if he admitted to the molestation allegation and avoided being arrested again for a year.

The grand jury report accuses Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Washington, of helping to protect some child-molesting priests while he was bishop of Pittsburgh from 1988 to 2006. (Susan Walsh/Associated Press)

Southdown's assessment was that Connor "acts out sexually with some preference to late adolescent males" because of his problem with alcohol, the report says.

"They specifically warned against giving Connor responsibility for adolescents," it says, and "would not recommend any ministry that would directly put him in a position of responsibility for adolescents such as a teaching situation."

'No warning to parishioners'

Yet the church would later give Connor assignments featuring an "unrestricted ministry," the report says, with "no warning to the parishioners of the church that he was an admitted child molester."

The grand jury says a man would later claim that during that time, from 1986 to 1988, when he was 12 to 14, he was repeatedly molested by Connor.

In another case, Rev. Thomas C. Kelley was accused of inappropriate sexual conduct with at least five victims who were 18- to 25-year-old males in high school or in the seminary, the report says. Kelley allegedly engaged in mutual masturbation, and oral and anal sex with his victims in Odessa, Pa.

In the fall of 1995, Kelley was sent to the Southdown Institute for a week-long assessment.

"It was determined that Kelley should have a restricted ministry that kept him away from young parishioners," the grand jury report says.

Kelley was later sent back to Southdown for "several months of treatment," the report says, during which time he "reflected on his conduct while in Odessa and decided that he was not ready to quit serving God."

Over the course of the next several years, Kelley spent most of his time as a priest in the Diocese of San Angelo, Texas. 

Another reverend, John Hoehl, was admitted to Southdown following a report of sexual abuse in 1986. He underwent therapy for approximately six months and was later discharged. During his treatment, the report says, the director of Southdown said Hoehl claimed he had been sexually involved with several high school students when he was headmaster of a Catholic high school in Baden, Pa.

The Vatican has called the sex abuse described in the grand jury report in Pennsylvania 'criminal and morally reprehensible.' (Luca Zennaro/Associated Press)

Southdown provided the diocese in Pittsburgh with an assessment that said Hoehl was a pedophile, according to the grand jury. Yet he would later be assigned as an educational consultant to the secretary of education for the diocese. He was also appointed chaplain at a hospital, the report says. 

"The expiration of the statute of limitations prevented Hoehl from being arrested and charged criminally for sexual abuse of minors."

The same is true for many cases documented in the grand jury report.

Abuse cases in Canada

The report also reveals details about cases where abuse is said to have occurred in Canada.

One priest is alleged to have sexually assaulted two boys in a hotel room in Toronto while on a retreat.

Another priest is alleged to have taken a trip with a boy to Canada, slept in the same bed with him and served him alcohol.

The grand jury report also mentions the police investigation in 1988 of Rev. Robert G. Wolk, who was alleged to have sexually assaulted boys.

"During the investigation it was alleged that other unnamed priests conducted sado-masochistic rituals on several young boys in Washington and Somerset Counties, as well as in Florida and Canada," the report says.

It also refers to a Pittsburgh Press newspaper article quoting a district attorney who said "investigators were looking into more than 200 acts Wolk allegedly committed with one of the youths in Canada, Virginia, Florida and Ohio."

— With files from Phillip Ling and The Associated Press

About the Author

Mark Gollom


Mark Gollom is a Toronto-based reporter with CBC News. He covers Canadian and U.S. politics and current affairs.