Witness recalls being stalked by priest

Posted: March 28, 2012

A former student at a Catholic high school in South Philadelphia today described how an Archdiocese of Philadelphia priest stalked him, had him removed from a class, locked him in a conference room, touched his leg and pressed him to talk about homosexuality.

"I told you I'd find you," the Rev. Francis Trauger allegedly told the boy, then 15.

The priest ordered the boy to kneel and unzip his pants, but the forced encounter abruptly ended when a faculty member began banging on the door, the student said.

Now 36, the man was the second witness to testify at the conspiracy and child-sex abuse trial of two archdiocesan priests.

Prosecutors introduced his testimony as part of their contention that former secretary of clergy Msgr. William J. Lynn and other church leaders failed to take steps to remove priests they knew or suspected were abusing children.

A grand jury report seven years ago said archdiocese officials had logged complaints about Trauger's misconduct with minors as early as 1981. He was permanently removed from the priesthood in 2005.

Lynn is accused of enabling or covering up clergy sex-abuse when he recommended assignments for priests and investigated accusations that they had molested or sexually assaulted children. His codefendant, the Rev. James J. Brennan, is charged with attempting to rape a 14-year-old boy in 1996.

Both have denied the accusations.

The incident described in court today happened in 1991, a year before Lynn became the secretary for clergy, though Lynn has said he reviewed all abuse complaints in secret church archives when he took the job.

In a disputed ruling, Common Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina has said that prosecutors can tell jurors how Lynn and other church officials responded to complaints about decades worth of abuse allegations against priests because such information could demonstrate a broader practice or mind-set within the church hierarchy.

The witness, whose name is being withheld by The Inquirer, said he was a short, scrawny sophomore at St. John Neumann High School when he noticed Trauger in a Center City bookstore in the spring of 1991. The teen was wearing a Neumann jacket and looking at gay pornographic magazines when Trauger approached him, he said.

Dressed in black but without his clerical collar, Trauger mentioned he was a priest, though the teen didn't know him, he testified under questioning from Assistant District Attorney Mark Cipolletti.

Trauger demanded to see the magazines the boy was clutching. He also wanted his name, the witness said. The boy refused to tell him.

"Don't worry, I'll find you," he recalled Trauger saying.

Weeks later, the man said, he was pulled from class one afternoon and found Trauger waiting in the hallway.

Trauger told him he had approached school administrators, who were priests of an independent religious order, and said he was trying to find a former pupil of his. They let him review student ID photos until he found the boy.

Trauger kept him in the locked room for at least an hour, the man said. He was freed when a faculty member who had been looking for him banged on the door.

Trauger told the boy he knew where he lived, the names of his parents and siblings and where his nieces and nephews went to school. He described what the boy's mother had been wearing earlier that day. Trauger dropped him off at home and had no other contact with him, the witness said.

The next day, the school principal and vice principal came to his home to discuss the incident with the teen and his parents. More than a decade passed before an archdiocese investigator contacted him, in 2003, to arrange an interview about it.

During cross-examination by Lynn's lawyer, Thomas Bergstrom, the man acknowledged he never met or had heard of Lynn until recently.


Contact John P. Martin at 215-854-4774 or at jmartin@phillynews.com. Follow him @JPMartinInky on Twitter.

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