Ex-Vineland priest in Pa. abuse report
A former Cumberland County priest was named in a scathing Pennsylvania grand jury report released Tuesday amid accusations he molested a 14-year-old child in 1984 in a trailer in Cape May County.
John P. Connor, who formerly served as a Diocese of Camden priest at St. Francis of Assisi parish in Vineland, was assigned to Bishop Eustace Preparatory in Pennsauken Township, Camden County, at the time of the incident, according to the report.
The report also alleges the Cape May County Prosecutor’s Office investigated the case but agreed to put Connor in a pretrial intervention program and erase the priest’s record in favor of internal discipline from within the church.
The Prosecutor’s Office did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday afternoon.
Michael Walsh, a spokesman for the Diocese of Camden, said Connor, 84, was stripped of his priestly duties in 2002 and is living in a facility in Missouri designed for priests with abusive backgrounds, restricted to a life of prayer and penance.
The grand jury report cites a letter dated March 29, 1985, from the Prosecutor’s Office to Connor’s attorney, which reads:
“We have placed explicit reliance on the internal discipline of the institutional church in assuring that Father Connor takes all the steps reasonably necessary to live up to the letter and the spirit of the Participants Agreement — even after the period of court supervision expires.”
Later in 1985, the report says, Bishop George Guilfoyle of the Camden Diocese wrote to Bishop Anthony Bevilacqua, then the bishop of Pittsburgh, asking whether he would take Connor.
Bevilacqua, who died in 2012, agreed, citing a long-standing tradition of “bishops helping bishops,” according to the grand jury report.
On a weekend in October 1984, Connor asked the 14-year-old boy’s mother whether he could take her son on a golf outing to the shore and have him stay overnight at his trailer in Cape May County, according to a previous report from The Philadelphia Inquirer.
After a round of golf, Connor took the boy back to the trailer, served him beer and molested him, according to the news report.
In a 2002 interview with The Inquirer, Connor described the episode as “touching” and did not elaborate. The boy’s mother described it as mutual masturbation, according to the news report.
In 2002, Connor blamed the incident on alcoholism and said it was a one-time occurrence. However, Connor invited the boy for another sleepover the next weekend, according to the news report.
The incident was reported to the Cape May County Prosecutor’s Office, which ran a sting operation and recorded Connor admitting to his crime and apologizing, according to the news report.
Connor was arrested the day after the sting by Cape May County authorities, but there was never any trial, according to the news report.
Instead, Connor was placed in a pretrial intervention program and was temporarily sent for treatment at Southdown Institute, a clinic near Toronto run by the Canadian Catholic Bishops Conference, according to the news report.
The decision not go after a criminal conviction was based on “what would best serve society’s interest,” Assistant Cape May County Prosecutor Kyran Connor wrote the boy’s mother in March 1985, according to the news report.
Sometime later in 1985, John Connor completed his treatment at Southdown and was sent to work as a hospital chaplain in the Diocese of Pittsburgh under Bevilacqua.
He was later reassigned to St. Alphonsus Parish in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, where he allegedly molested another boy between 1986 and 1988, according to the grand jury report.
In February 1988, Bevilacqua became archbishop of Philadelphia.
Later that year, Bevilacqua brought Connor to the Philadelphia Archdiocese and assigned him to St. Matthew’s parish in Conshohocken.
Bevilacqua never told the pastor of St. Matthew’s, James W. Donlon, that Connor was an admitted child molester and encouraged Connor to educate youth at the parish, according to the grand jury report.
While assigned at St. Matthew’s, Connor took a young boy out to the movies, dinner, bowling or golfing once a week for years beginning in third grade, according to the grand jury report.
The boy, who was located by authorities years later, did not say whether he was sexually abused by Connor, according to the report.
Connor was moved back to the Diocese of Camden in 1993 because his 1984 Cape May County victim had sued and received a settlement. He was then assigned as a hospital chaplain in Bridgeton.
In 2002, the diocese stripped Connor of his duties and removed him from active ministry, according to a previous Press of Atlantic City report.
The grand jury said there was “little to no documentation” that the Dioceses of Camden, Philadelphia or Pittsburgh notified local law enforcement or the District Attorney’s Office of Connor’s sexual abuse.
Walsh said that statement is “completely inaccurate” in regards to the Diocese of Camden.
“On April 9, 2002, Feb. 25, 2004, Feb. 15, 2005, Feb. 3, 2011, Aug. 24, 2012, and Oct. 19, 2016, the Diocese of Camden notified law-enforcement authorities in New Jersey of allegations that it had received against Connor concerning abusive activities that occurred prior to his removal from ministry,” Walsh said in a statement. “Additionally, on Aug. 24, 2012, the diocese followed up with law-enforcement authorities in Pennsylvania concerning an accusation against Connor which occurred after his removal from ministry.”
Connor is one of several priests who have been accused of child sex abuse in the Diocese of Camden over the years.
In 2003, the diocese paid an $880,000 settlement to 23 people who said they were sexually assaulted by priests and others, according to previous reports.
In 2010, the diocese removed the Rev. Brendan V. Sullivan from ministry for an incident that had allegedly happened 29 years prior.
Sullivan served in parishes in Margate, Absecon and Ventnor, and was a former principal at Holy Spirit High School in Absecon.