Former Charleston Catholic priest named in Pennsylvania child sexual abuse report

More than 1,000 children identified in priest abuse case, PA grand jury finds

A Pennsylvania grand jury says its investigation of clergy sexual abuse identified more than 1,000 child victims. The grand jury report released August 14 says that number comes from records in six Roman Catholic dioceses.
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A Pennsylvania grand jury says its investigation of clergy sexual abuse identified more than 1,000 child victims. The grand jury report released August 14 says that number comes from records in six Roman Catholic dioceses.

One name is connected to South Carolina within the 1,356 pages of a report on sexual abuse of children and cover-ups by Catholic church officials in Pennsylvania.

Father Robert E. Spangenberg served as pastor at St. Patrick Catholic Church in Charleston. He served at the Lowcountry church from 1990 to 1993, according to the Pennsylvania grand jury report.

In the report, two allegations of sexual abuse are levied against Spangenberg.

“The documents provided by the Diocese of Pittsburgh revealed that Spangenberg was involved with at least two children, possibly more,” the report reads.

In 1988, a mother informed the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh that her son was abused by Spangenberg. Another priest who was helping the boy and his mother with counseling investigated the accusation. Church officials did not “take the accusations by the victim’s family serious enough to remove (Spangenberg),” the report details. Spangenberg was, however, moved to another Diocese following the alleged incident.

A priest who investigated the incident wrote to the boy’s family and said, “‘Excessive use of alcohol contributed significantly to clouding the judgment and perception and further exacerbates the reliability of memory.’” The priest went on to say in the letter, “‘I do believe that Father Spangenberg exercised questionable judgment.’”

The grand jury report does not mention any civil authority investigation of the alleged incident, only the Catholic Church’s investigation.

Another incident involving Spangenberg was reported in 2009 by an adult male. The man said that when he was 15 to 16 years old he and Spangenberg “engaged in many types of sexual encounters,” the report reads.

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Spangenberg was also accused of using church collection money for sex, drugs and alcohol.

The Catholic church continued to pay for therapy and other expenses of the man who came forward with the accusation, the report says.

Spangenberg was born in 1947 and joined The Congregation of the Holy Spirit Province of the United States, whose members go by the Spiritans or Holy Ghost Fathers. Their congregation of the Catholic Church was founded in the 18th century and often worked with formerly enslaved individuals and set up schools.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Charleston offered a statement saying, “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.”

The Charleston diocese said that on Wednesday its was closed for the Holy Feast Day of the Assumption and that a more thorough search of their records would be undertaken following the holiday.

“The Most Reverend Robert E. Guglielmone, Bishop of Charleston, asks everyone to pray for all victims of abuse and for their families,” the diocese said.

The Post and Courier and other news outlets reported the Charleston diocese’s statement.

On Tuesday, a Pennsylvania grand jury issued the report that detailed more than 300 Catholic priests across the state sexually abusing children over seven decades, The Washington Post’s Michelle Boorstein reported. Church leaders protected the abusers.

“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. For decades,” the grand jury found.

The Vatican put out a statement calling the abuses in the report “morally reprehensible.” The Catholic Miscellany of Charleston reported on the Vatican’s statement.

“Victims should know that the pope is on their side. Those who have suffered are his priority, and the church wants to listen to them to root out this tragic horror that destroys the lives of the innocent,” said Greg Burke, head of the Vatican press office, on Thursday. “Those acts were betrayals of trust that robbed survivors of their dignity and their faith. The church must learn hard lessons from its past, and there should be accountability for both abusers and those who permitted abuse to occur.”

Spangenberg died in 2006, according to the Pennsylvania report.

Read the whole report here.

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