Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Pennsylvania diocese responds sharply to safeguarding failure

The Diocese of Greensburg, Pennsylvania has asked civil authorities to investigate a possible conspiracy to cover-up the criminal record of a former employee at a parish cemetery.

The safe environment coordinator at the St Elizabeth Ann Seton parish had a file on the employee, Shon Harrity, that “included an FBI fingerprint check which clearly disqualified him from employment,” the diocese said.

Harrity had been employed at St Elizabeth Ann Seton since 2012 and also by the Immaculate Conception parish since 2022, when the two were combined.

“The former employee was arrested and charged with eight felonies, including sexual assault of a minor earlier this month – unrelated to his duties at the church,” said a statement on the diocesan website.  

“Despite failing a criminal background check, he was permitted to be employed at an Irwin cemetery and in parish maintenance for 12 years.”

The criminal record dated back to the early 2000s. It included “guilty pleas of indecent exposure, open lewdness, obscene disorderly conduct, possession of marijuana, and possession of a controlled substance”. 

The parish priest Fr John Moineau had attested to the bishop that all clearances for employees at the parish had been personally verified, including the three required background checks for all employees.

The diocese said had Moineau resigned “for the good of the parishes, the diocese and the Church, and at the same time will go on medical leave to focus on his health”.

Three parish employees were also placed on paid leave pending the outcome of the investigation. Bishop Larry Kulick announced a canonical investigation to determine whether the employees or Fr Moineau had shown “culpable negligence” in the case.

The swift response evidenced Bishop Kulick’s determination to move the Church in Pennsylvania past the moral and spiritual shadow of the state attorney general’s grand jury investigation into the its handling of sex abuse cases, which resulted in a report issued in August 2018.  

That report covered the six suffragan dioceses of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia: Allentown, Erie, Harrisburg, Greensburg, Pittsburgh and Scranton.  Philadelphia itself had undergone a similar investigation issued in 2016.