Priest ‘self re­ports’ sex abuse

Of­fi­cials say in­ci­dent hap­pened in early 1980s; 87-year-old re­moved from min­istry

The Morning Call - - FRONT PAGE - By Daniel Pa­trick Shee­han and Emily Opilo

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.

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