A long-serving Monsignor at St. Titus Church was among the 301 Catholic priests named in a grand jury report about sexual abuse within the Pennsylvania Catholic Church.
The 887-page report, which was released Tuesday and made by 23 grand jurors, details several reports of abuse across six of Pennsylvania’s eight Dioceses, including the Diocese of Erie, which has Crawford and Venango counties within its coverage area.
A total of 41 “predator priests,” as they are called in the report, are named as operating in the Diocese of Erie. Among them was a priest who served more than two decades at St. Titus Church, in Titusville.
A report on Monsignor James P. Hopkins is given in the grand jury document. According to the report, a victim wrote a letter to Erie Bishop Donald Trautman on Aug. 3, 1993, in which she stated that Hopkins grabbed and kissed girls inappropriately.
The girl alleged that in 1945, she experienced personal abuse by Hopkins when she was 13-years of age, stating that Hopkins would, “grab our face in his hands, force us to look up, and then plant a sloppy kiss on our mouths. He would also grab us and pull us close, wrap his cape around us, and fondle us whenever he pleased.”
The Herald was unable to find record of a Monsignor James P. Hopkins in Herald archives. However, a Monsignor James F. Hopkins was named in multiple articles within the same time frame that James P. Hopkins would’ve been St. Titus’ pastor, possibly indicating a mistake in the report.
Further, James F. Hopkins’ death was reported in a July 15, 1957, issue of The Herald, while the grand jury report lists James P. Hopkins’ death as taking place in July of 1957.
According to the article, James F. Hopkins served as St. Titus’ pastor from 1928 until his death.
The grand jury report states that the victim was often dismissed when reporting on Hopkins’ behavior. Indeed, after another letter sent to Bishop Trautman on Jan. 11, 1994, Trautman turned down the opportunity to investigate further.
“Since Monsignor Hopkins died in July of 1957, there is no possible way to investigate your accusation,” Trautman wrote, according to the report.
The issue of many of the predator priests being dead is brought up early on in the report.
“Many of the priests who we profile here are dead,” the grand jury wrote. “We decided it was crucial to include them anyway, because we suspect that many of their victims may still be alive — including unreported victims who may have thought they were the only one.”
While not every priest detailed in the report, many of the reported cases of abuse occurred so long ago that they can no longer be prosecuted. The grand jury attributed this to a cover-up by Catholic officials that deflected or hid away cases of abuse, rather than act on them.
“As a consequence of the coverup, almost every instance of abuse we found is too old to be prosecuted,” the grand jury wrote. “But that is not to say there are no more predators.”
Methodologies undertaken in the cover up include avoiding using the word “rape,” sending priests with reports of abuse against them to other communities, not speaking with police, and other such techniques.
Besides Hopkins, one other priest with ties to Titusville is mentioned in the report, though the case of abuse connected to him did not occur during his time in the city.
The grand jury stated that, while more than 1,000 victims are listed in the report, they suspect that number to be higher, and the scale of the abuse cover up to be greater than suspected.
“There have been other reports about child sex abuse within the Catholic Church,” The grand jury said. “But never on this scale.”
Father Donald Cooper is listed as having served at St. Titus from May, 1964 to June, 1971. Cooper is alleged to have sexually abused a 16-year-old boy between 1981 and 1982, while he was serving at St. Charles in New Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Cooper would go on to work at a variety of churches around the state, including Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church, in Oil City.
According to the report, Cooper would molest his victim while showering or taking a sauna with him during overnight trips to hotels and motels. The victim came forward in 2005, contacting the Diocese of Erie.
However, while Cooper retired from priesthood after the victim contacted the Diocese, no legal action against him is listed as having been taken.
However, Titusville was not the only town in the Oil Region to be affected by sexual abuse within the Catholic Church. Herald reporters identified within the report four cases with ties to Meadville, one with a connection to Franklin and five involving Oil City.
Not all of the abuse reported in these cases took place in those surrounding cities, but the priests involved spent at least some time in those areas. However, there were a few instances where the abuse did occur locally.
For example, Father Stephen E. Jeselnick reportedly sexually abused three males while serving at St. Brigid, in Meadville, during the late 1970s. The report states that Jeselnick would drink alcohol with his victim’s parents until they were drunk. He would then subsequently sexually abuse the victims, including performing genital fondling, oral and anal sex.
Jeselnick had his faculties as a priest denied in 2014 by Bishop of Erie Lawrence Persico.
One report was given on three separate incidents of abuse, which occurred at Venango Christian High School, all relating to a Father Gerard Krebs.
According to the grand jury, in 1968, while Krebs was serving as an English teacher at the school, a victim came to him after graduation stating that he thought he had impregnated his girlfriend, and asked Krebs for advice.
The report states that Krebs informed the victim he was once a pre-med student, and said that he could determine whether the victim was capable of impregnating someone by checking the victim’s prostate.
Krebs subsequently penetrated the victim’s anus with his finger.
Another victim alleged that Krebs abused him in the late 1960s at the school. According to the report, the sister of the victim stated that her brother was “sexually molested” by Krebs, who would give male students wine.
A third victim, in an Oct. 20, 2006, email, said that Krebs led the victim through “a series of sexual rituals to both prove my faith and the fact that I was not a homosexual.” The victim was Episcopalian at the time, and had approached Krebs about converting to Catholicism.
While Krebs did undergo psychological evaluation in 2002, no law enforcement was ever informed of his actions, according to the grand jury. Krebs died in 2005.
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro announced the release of the report at a press conference Tuesday. Shapiro called the document, which is viewable on the Attorney General’s website, “[T]he most comprehensive report on child sexual abuse within the church ever produced in our country.”
The report also came with a series of recommended changes to Pennsylvania law to help address abuse cases in the future.
These changes were:
— Eliminating the statue of limitations for sexually abusing children;
— creating a “civil window” so older victims may now sue for damages;
— clarifying the penalties for continued failure to report abuse;
— and specifying that civil confidentiality agreements do not cover communicating with law enforcement.
Attorney General Shapiro said that the release of the report was delayed for several months due to sealed court filings made by individuals named in the document, as well as certain members of the Pennsylvania Dioceses.
“In effect, they wanted to cover up the cover up,” Attorney General Shapiro said.
While the report was released, following a July 27 Pennsylvania Supreme Court order, there are a number of redactions within it, something Attorney General Shapiro is not happy with.
“My office is not satisfied with the release of a redacted report,” Attorney General Shapiro said. “Every redaction represents an incomplete story of abuse that deserves to be told.”
Attorney General said his office has an oral argument before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in September, and that he would fight to get rid of every redaction.
Bishop Lawrence issued a response to the report’s release later the same day.
“Today, I want to express my sorrow directly to the victims of sexual abuse that occurred within the Diocese of Erie,” Persico said. “You have suffered in darkness for a very long time.”
In additional to apologizing to victims, Persico pledged that the Diocese would be more forth coming about abuse in the future, and get law enforcement involved with allegations of abuse. The Diocese would also pay for counseling and provide support to victims.
“We have much work to do to rebuild trust, in a church where leaders have failed, Persico said. “I commit myself and this diocese to assist in healing for victims and, in fact, for the wider community.”
Ray can be reached, by email, at email@example.com.