Bishop Ronald Gainer of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania asked Pope Francis to defrock a priest who confessed to sexually abusing multiple children.
In 2014, Gainer requested the Pope to allow Rev. Joseph Pease to spend the remaining years of his life in “prayer and penance. At the time, Pease was 83 years old and already suffering from dementia. The bishop believed that Pease cannot himself during the disciplinary process of the church because of his mental state.
Gainer changed his decision after the York Daily Record reported that Pease was the only priest accused of child sexual abuse in Harrisburg diocese, still in the church payroll.
In his letter to Pope Francis, Gainer wrote, “While I do not believe Joseph Pease is of sound mind, his dismissal from the clerical state is the appropriate sentence for his actions. I humbly ask you to reconsider the case of Joseph Pease and remove him from the clerical state,” according to Mike Barley, spokesman for the diocese.
Grand jury report prompted Gainer to recommend laicization
Barley said Gainer made the request after learning more about the allegations against Pease from the grand jury report on clergy sexual abuse. The bishop believes that laicization is necessary even if Pease has dementia because of the severity of his crimes against children.
Pennsylvania State Attorney General Josh Shapiro released the grand jury report in August. The grand jury identified 301 predator priests who sexually abused over a thousand children over the past 70 years
Church documents show that the Harrisburg diocese knew about Pease’s misconduct, which dates back in the 1960s. In fact, the diocese sent him to a treatment center for priests accused of sexually abusing children. After six months at the treatment center, the diocese reinstated him to active ministry in several parishes until his retirement in 2002.
The diocese received a number of allegations against Pease. However, since the priest’s retirement, it took the diocese 12 years before it decided to suspend him from active ministry.
Barley explained that laicization process takes years. Gainer decided to suspend Pease in 2014 because it was “the quickest, easiest, and most effective way to get him out of active ministry.”