DRAWING A LINE
Catholic Church Shielded Priests Who Raped Boys, but It Helped Lock Up a Priest Who Swiped Bucks
The monsignor who gambled and traveled on the Archdiocese’s dime remained behind bars as a grand jury reported on the crimes of his peers who preyed on children.
Rape and molest trusting young boys for half a century, but do not touch the Catholic Church’s money.
Therein lies the lesson offered in Pennsylvania by Father Francis Rogers and Monsignor William Dombrow.
Rogers’ decades of depredations were detailed in a grand jury report on the Archdiocese of Philadelphia made public in 2005, and which was finally followed this week by a similar grand jury report on six other dioceses in Pennsylvania.
“The Grand Jury will never be able to determine how many boys Father Francis P. Rogers raped and sexually abused in his more than 50 years as a priest,” noted the earlier report on sexual assault committed by an unholy host of priests. “Nor, probably, will we or anyone else be able to calculate the number of boys the Archdiocese could have saved from sexual abuse had it investigated potential victims rather than protecting itself from scandal and shielding this sexually abusive priest. We have learned of at least three victims who we believe would not have been abused had the Archdiocese taken decisive action when it learned of Fr. Rogers’ “familiarity” with boys. We find that the Archdiocese received a litany of verifiable reports beginning shortly after Fr. Rogers’ 1946 ordination and continuing for decades about his serious misconduct with, and abuse of, boys. ‘
The report went on,” One of his victims described waking up intoxicated in the priest’s bed, opening his eyes to see Fr. Rogers, three other priests, and a seminarian surrounding him. Two of the priests ejaculated on him while Fr. Rogers masturbated himself. Then Fr. Rogers sucked on the victim’s penis, pinched his nipples, kissed him, and rubbed his stubbly beard all over him. The former altar boy, whom Fr. Rogers began abusing when he was about 12 years old, remains haunted by memories of the abuse more than 35 years later. “
The report concluded, “Father Rogers’ file demonstrates that the Archdiocese responded to reports of his crimes with a shameful half-century of transfers, excuses, and finger-wagging threats that did nothing to deter the priest from indulging his self-acknowledged ‘weakness’ and that exposed every boy in his path to the very real and horrible possibility of sexual abuse.”
At no point did a church official notify law enforcement about crimes that should have put Rogers behind bars for years. He instead remained at liberty and spent this final days in the comfort of Villa Saint Joseph, a diocesan residence for priests who are sidelined or retired as sexual predators.
“Father Rogers was never punished or held to account for his unchecked sexual predations or the devastation they caused,” the 2005 grand jury report notes. “He was permitted to retire in 1995, his ‘good name’ intact. The message clearly communicated by the Archdiocese’s actions—to victims and abusers alike—was that it would protect the reputation of its priests at all costs.”
Thanks to a life insurance policy and perhaps some modest savings, Rogers left $14,410 to the church. The money should have gone into an Archdiocese and Catholic Human Services account. Unbeknownst to the church, it was instead diverted along with hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations and bequests into an account at the Sharon Savings Bank controlled by the rector at Villa Saint Joseph, Monsignor William Dombrow.
When the folks at Sharon Savings noticed a number of payments from what was supposedly a church account to Harrah’s Philadelphia Casino & Racetrack, they alerted the archdiocese.
The same archdiocese that never held Rogers and an unholy host of other monsters to account for “unchecked sexual predations,” was not about to let these bank checks go unchecked. A spokesman for the archdiocese described a response to stolen money such as had never been elicited by reports of raped children, including an assault in a confessional and forced oral sex followed by holy water as a mouth rinse.
“Last summer, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia was alerted to irregularities concerning a bank account connected to Villa Saint Joseph in Darby, Pennsylvania,” the spokesman said. “At that time, the matter was referred to law enforcement by the Archdiocese and Monsignor William Dombrow’s faculties as well as his administrative responsibilities were restricted.”
The spokesman added, “Throughout the investigation, the Archdiocese has cooperated fully with law enforcement.”
Compare that to what the 2005 grand jury report says the archdiocese did upon receiving complaints about priests sexually assaulting youngsters:
“Not only did Church officials not report the crimes, they went even further, by persuading parents not to involve law enforcement.”
The church files contained allegations that had been lodged against 169 priests. Not all of the hundreds of victims were boys. A priest had arranged for an abortion for an 11-year-old girl he had repeatedly raped. Another girl had been sexually assaulted while in traction in the hospital.
But those were just kids. Money was money.
In April of 2017, Dombrow was charged in federal court with multiple counts of wire fraud. The criminal complaint described the sin that had prompted the church to action:
“Defendant William A. Dombrow used these funds for his own personal use, knowing that the monies were owned by the Archdiocese and were intended for use by the Archdiocese. Dombrow did so without notifying the Archdiocese of any of his purchases or withdrawals, and without advising the Archdiocese that the Sharon Savings Bank account existed or that the funds had been deposited for the benefit of the Archdiocese as the intended recipient.”
In May, Dombrow pleaded guilty. The sentencing was initially set for August 15, but that was the Feast of the Assumption. It was put off until January 3 of this year.
Various supporters wrote to the court attesting to Dombrow’s good works and suggesting that even as he helped others with addiction, he himself had fallen victim to a gambling habit. Assistant U.S. Attorney Michelle Rotella noted during the sentencing hearing that not all the diverted funds had gone to wagering. The money had also been spoken on travel—Aruba and Italy—and fine dining and tickets to the theater and concerts.
“He ate whatever he wanted,” Rotella said. “He spent whatever he wanted.”
Dombrow placed himself at the mercy of the court.
“What I’ve done, I know, is a serious crime, and I am guilty of that,” Dombrow said. “All I can do is accept what your decision is today and move on with my life. I truly trust God with all of this.”
Judge Gerald Pappert described the moral dimensions of the theft.
“What happened here,” Pappert said, “is that someone with a weakness took great advantage of the generosity of countless people and saw an opportunity to fund a lifestyle—and to a certain extent an addiction—with other people’s money.”
Imagine what the judge might have said had he been sentencing the likes of Rogers for raping dozens of children. Imagine the sentence a predatory priest might have received considering that the judge gave a 78-year-old embezzling priest eight months in prison.
On February 20, Dombrow surrendered as ordered to begin serving his sentence. He remained Inmate 76001-066 at Ashland Federal Correctional Institution in Kentucky this week, as the state of Pennsylvania released a grand jury report on predatory priests in six other dioceses. The new report significantly differed from the 2005 one on Philadelphia only in the larger number of perps and victims.
“We heard the testimony of dozens of witnesses concerning clergy sex abuse," the new report says. “We subpoenaed, and reviewed, half a million pages of internal diocesan documents. They contained credible allegations against over three hundred predator priests. Over one thousand child victims were identifiable, from the church’s own records. We believe that the real number—of children whose records were lost, or who were afraid ever to come forward—is in the thousands. “
One priest had taken it upon himself to resign in 1990 after three allegations of sexual abuse were filed against him. Church officials in Allentown wrote him a recommendation for a job at Disney World, where he worked for 18 years.
Otherwise, the response of the church officials as described in the 2015 report had been the same as was described in the 2005 report.
“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,” the new report says. “For decades.”
The 2015 reports notes that the higher-ups have never been held accountable for their inaction.
“Monsignors, auxiliary bishops, bishops, archbishops, cardinals have mostly been protected; many, including some named in this report, have been promoted,” the grand jury found, “Until that changes, we think it is too early to close the book on the Catholic Church sex scandal.”
In the meantime, church officials in Pennsylvania have been lobbying to dissuade the state from lifting the statute of limitations on sex crimes, as victim groups and both grand jury reports recommend. Church officials in other states, including New York, have also fought new state laws to lift or extend the statute of limitations.
The senior clerics may be seeking to protect not just the predator priests, but also themselves, for they could be held criminally responsible for failing to report child abuse.
If the Pope is as much on the side of the victims as the Vatican insisted in a belated statement condemning the assaults detailed in the latest grand jury report as “criminal and morally reprehensible,” he could order church officials in Pennsylvania to cease supporting the statute of limitations.
In the meantime, the monsignor who prompted the church to immediate action when he stole money remains behind bars as Inmate 76001-066.