Priest ‘self reports’ sex abuse
Officials say incident happened in early 1980s; 87-year-old removed from ministry
An 87-year-old Catholic priest who retired 11 years ago was removed from ministry after telling superiors that he sexually abused a minor in the early 1980s, the Allentown Diocese said Friday.
Stephen J. Halabura — who was ordained in 1961 and had been serving as a substitute priest as needed — was removed from ministry in May when he reported the incident.
Law enforcement was notified, the diocese said in a news release.
The incident occurred at the former St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Millmont, Berks County, which was later closed and merged into St. John Baptist de la Salle in Shillington.
An independent investigation concluded the report was credible. The Independent Review Board, a panel that advises the bishop on clergy abuse, “recently recommended Halabura was unsuitable for ministry” and his name was added to the list of accused priests on the diocese website, the release said.
Spokesman Matt Kerr said the diocese waited to release the news about Halabura until the investigation was complete and the review board made its recommendation. Kerr said he did not know where Halabura had been substituting as a priest.
Halabura served in nine parishes in Berks, Carbon, Lehigh and Schuylkill counties, from 1961 until his retirement in 2008.
He is one of 56 Allentown Diocese priests who has been accused of abuse.
A statewide grand jury released a report in 2018 that found 300 priests in six dioceses had abused more than 1,000 children. It included 37 Allentown priests and the diocese released the names of many more. Halabura’s case appears unusual in that he reported himself.
Mike McDonnell, Philadelphia chapter leader of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said he has never seen another case of a priest selfreporting abuse. McDonnell questioned what prompted Halabura’s confession.
“It very well could be conscience, but how many years do you need to examine your conscience?” McDonnell asked.
Mary McHale, Reading chapter leader of SNAP, said she also has never encountered a case of a priest reporting his own abuse.
While Halabura was serving at St. Paul’s parish in South Allentown in the late 1960s, he tried to mediate in a standoff involving a resident opposed to a sewer line in Salisbury Township, according to Morning Call archives. In 1968, Ruth Vito parked her car in the path of a sewer line under construction. Armed with a revolver, she handcuffed herself to the steering wheel. Halabura was called to the scene to try to talk Vito out of the car. Despite a five-hour effort, he had no success, The Morning Call reported.
A hotline set up by the state attorney general’s office after the grand jury report was released fielded more than 1,800 calls in the first 12 months, about 90% of which were about abuse or cover-ups within the Catholic Church.
Concerns about abuse in the church or elsewhere can be reported to the state ChildLine at 800-932-0313; the attorney general’s hotline at 888-5388541; or to police. The Allentown Diocese’s victim assistance coordinator can be reached at 800791-9209.