Pa. bishop changes path on punishment of priest with dementia

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — A Pennsylvania bishop has reversed course to ask the Vatican to defrock a priest suffering from dementia who was accused of sexually abusing children and was named in the state’s grand jury report on priest abuse.

The York Daily Record reported Harrisburg Bishop Ronald Gainer asked the pope in September to remove 87-year-old Joseph Pease from the priesthood. Bishop Gainer had written the Vatican in 2014 saying Pease could not mount a defense as part of the church’s disciplinary process because of his mental state, and asking for a more compassionate punishment.

He previously asked for a punishment of prayer and penance for the then 83-year-old saying it was also the fastest way to remove him from active service because laicization can take years.

Pease had confessed to sexually abusing multiple children, with allegations from as far back as the 1960s and spanning his career at 10 parishes. Records showed multiple admonishments from his superiors including for allowing minors in private areas of the rectory.

The change of heart from Bishop Gainer comes a week after the Daily Record reported that Pease was the only priest of the 72 accused of abuse in the Harrisburg diocese to remain on the church payroll.

A diocese spokesman said the request was made after more information about Pease came to light in the report.

Church documents had shown the diocese was aware of abuse several decades ago and had sent the priest to a treatment center. He was returned to active service after about six months of treatment. He retired in 2002, but the punishment was not levied until more than a decade later.

A diocese spokesman says the Vatican has not yet responded to the request to remove Pease from the priesthood.

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