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Charleston Catholic priest accused of child sex crimes in Pennsylvania grand jury report

Priest in church (Graphic uses photos from US Air Force, Pixabay)

A dead Catholic priest among hundreds accused of child sex crimes in Pennsylvania also spent several years at a Charleston church that has been implicated in past sexual abuse cases.

A massive report released Tuesday by a Pennsylvania grand jury accuses more than 300 Catholic priests there of being sexual predators, preying on more than 1,000 children over several decades.

Included in that report is the late Rev. Robert E. Spangenberg, who died in 2006. From 1990-1993, Spangenberg served as pastor at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Charleston.

Spangenberg’s assignment to St. Patrick’s came after he was removed as pastor at St. Anthony Catholic Church in Millvale, Pennsylvania amid child sex abuse allegations, the Pennsylvania grand jury report shows.

There is currently no indication Spangenberg sexually assaulted any children while serving in Charleston, according to a statement provided by the Diocese of Charleston Wednesday.

“To the best of our knowledge, there is no record of any allegations of misconduct made against Father Spangenberg while he was assigned to the parish,” diocese spokesperson Maria Aselage said. “The Most Reverend Robert E. Guglielmone, Bishop of Charleston, asks everyone to pray for all victims of abuse and for their families.”

PENNSYLVANIA GRAND JURY REPORT

The mother of a boy reportedly abused by Spangenberg wrote the Diocese of Pittsburgh and the Vatican in 1988 asking for help. The incident had apparently taken place several years prior. Spangenberg came to St. Anthony in 1984, per the grand jury report.

In her letter, the boy’s mother expressed dissatisfaction with the response from St. Anthony. The church had placed both the boy and Rev. Spangenberg in counseling after the allegations against the priest surfaced.

In 1989, the Diocese of Pittsburgh recorded an official response to the allegation, with the priest who’d been counseling Spangenberg and the boy casting doubt on the truthfulness of the boy’s claims.

“If we felt them to be true, we would recognize our responsibility to remove [Spangenberg] from ministry and to insist on therapeutic rehabilitation,” wrote Father Norman Bevan. “At the same time, we realize that a priest's reputation could be irreparably damaged by false accusations.”

While the Pittsburgh diocese said Spangenberg used “questionable judgment” in the alleged encounter with the boy, it did directly question the boy’s reliability in a letter to his mother, according to the grand jury.

The Pittsburgh diocese in the letter accused the boy of “excessive use of alcohol” prior to the incident, which church leaders claimed may have clouded the boy’s “judgment and perception,” making his memories of the encounter unreliable.

Still, the Diocese of Pittsburgh reassigned Spangenberg to a retirement community in Florida in 1989. A year later, he was reassigned again to St. Patrick’s in Charleston.

Since Spangenberg’s death, another Pennsylvania victim has come forward, according to court files. In 2009, a man claimed Spangenberg molested him several times as a teenager.

The man claimed he’d been part of a group of young, male street prostitutes called "Hustlers" as a teen, and that Spangenberg paid him on several occasions for sex with drugs, alcohol, and even money from the church’s collection box.

The victim also claims Spangenberg paid him to find even younger boys to have sex with, and that Spangenberg was “a really sick guy” who enjoyed sniffing glue while having sex with the victim, and having his victims urinate and defecate on him during sex.

The Diocese of Pittsburgh and the Spiritans Congregation, of which Spangenberg was part, are paying for Spangenberg’s alleged victims medication, therapy, child support and court costs, as well as helping them find jobs, the Pennsylvania grand jury found.

CHARLESTON TIES

St. Patrick's Church in Charleston where Spangenberg was assigned after his exit from Pennsylvania was recently implicated in another child sex abuse case.

In 2017, Freddy Washington, another former Catholic priest associated with St. Patrick’s, was charged by Charleston Police with sexually molesting two boys there in the early 1980s.

Two men came forward to say Washington molested them when they were studying to be altar boys at St. Patrick’s. The victims claim Washington told them the abuse was customary for all altar boys at St. Patrick’s, where Washington was volunteering at the time.

Washington is awaiting trial in Charleston County Court.

Twelve other Catholic priests serving in South Carolina under the Diocese of Charleston have been formally accused of sex crimes involving minors, according to documentation compiled by the online database BishopAccountability.org.

Meanwhile, the Diocese of Charleston told The Post and Courier in 2014 that there had been 32 South Carolina priests accused of sexual misconduct since the 1950s. The diocese at the time refused to release the priests’ names.

The Diocese of Charleston encourages all victims of sexual abuse or anyone who has knowledge of sexual abuse to contact authorities, the diocese said Wednesday.

The diocese also says it has help and guidance for victims available by contacting Louisa Storen, victim assistance coordinator, at 800-921-8122.

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