Late Baltimore Cardinal Keeler implicated in grand jury report on Catholic Church sex abuse

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A photo of Cardinal Keeler from 2002, via Archdiocese of Baltimore.

Cardinal William Keeler, the longtime former leader of the Archdiocese of Baltimore who passed away in March of last year, is implicated in a 900-page investigative report released today by a Pennsylvania grand jury.

The report contains decades’ worth of sexual abuse and cover-ups within a half-dozen Pennsvlvania dioceses, and accuses Keeler of “criminal inaction” during his time as bishop for the Harrisburg Diocese that led to prolonged sexual abuse of children by priests.

Keeler served in Harrisburg from 1979 to 1984, and was elevated to bishop of the diocese for five more years before he was tapped to be the 14th Archbishop of Baltimore. He was appointed cardinal in 1994.

The report, which can be downloaded here, says that as auxiliary bishop, Keeler interviewed and facilitated the appointment of a priest, Augustine Giella, to run his own parish. Giella “began sexually abusing” five of eight girls from a single family, along with “other relatives” of theirs, “almost immediately upon his appointment to the parish,” the report says.

The grand jury found that an “undated document” was addressed to Keeler with information about allegations against Giella, and that Keeler had also been notified of complaints against Giella.

“In spite of the detailed memorandum and this note, Giella remained in ministry and neither Keeler nor the Diocese attempted to remove Giella from ministry,” the grand jury wrote.

It also alleges Keeler kept aboard another priest, Arthur Long, who admitted to a colleague that he had sexual relationships with “four or five girls,” one of whom was 13 years old, as a priest for the Harrisburg Diocese. The grand jury report says Keeler was notified of the allegations, but a letter they referenced from another priest said he “preferred that Long be ‘reassigned by his Religious community.'”

The report later quotes a memo from another priest that says after Long spent just under a year combined at two institutions receiving counseling, Keeler “granted Long permission to work in the Archdiocese of Baltimore. Shortly after his assignment reports were again received of inappropriate behavior on his part,” and Long “never returned to his assignment or community.”

“The Grand Jury finds that Keeler presided over the Diocese of Harrisburg when it received complaints that Long had sexually abused children. Keeler was informed that Long had admitted to the conduct. In spite of such knowledge, Keeler, now in his capacity as Cardinal of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, returned Long to ministry in a Roman Catholic Archdiocese,” the report summarizes.

Speaking on behalf of the Archdiocese of Baltimore in a letter sent out Tuesday, Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori said the church is “especially saddened and troubled by the news of the late Cardinal William H. Keeler’s failures while serving as Bishop of Harrisburg.”

Lori cited a 2002 letter that Keeler penned to Baltimore’s Catholic community accompanying a list of the names of “credibly accused” priests, in which Keeler wrote, “The simple, painful truth is that the Church did not go far enough to protect children from sexual abuse,” and, asked “forgiveness for my mistakes.”

Lori said those words are now “even more revealing in light of today’s report.”

The church had been planning to name a proposed new Catholic school after Keeler, but that is “no longer the plan of the Archdiocese.”

All told, the grand jury report alleges more than 300 “predator priests” in six Pennsylvania diocese abused more than 1,000 child victims.

Lori defended his record as leader of the Baltimore archdiocese in his six years as archbishop, writing, “I have made the healing of survivors and the strengthening of our existing child abuse prevention policies a top priority,” including through an Independent Review Board and a mediation program for abuse survivors.

“Both of these rely heavily on the independent leadership of laity, which will be integral to the credibility of any effort to advance reforms in the Church to bring about greater trust, accountability, and transparency,” Lori wrote. “These are all critical to our ongoing and daily efforts to protect those in our care and to promote healing among those the Church failed to protect.”

Ethan McLeod
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Ethan McLeod

Senior Editor at Baltimore Fishbowl
Ethan has been editing and reporting for Baltimore Fishbowl since fall of 2016. His previous stops include Fox 45, CQ Researcher and Connection Newspapers in Northern Virginia. His freelance writing has been featured in Baltimore City Paper, Leafly, DCist and BmoreArt, among other outlets. He enjoys basketball, humid Mid-Atlantic summers and story tips.
Ethan McLeod
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1 COMMENT

  1. His body needs to be moved from the Basilica! All of Keeler’s leadership team at the AOB need to spill there guts! They ALL knew!

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