Catholic Priest

Thomas Smith

Ordained: 1967
Diocese: Diocese of Erie

From Report I of the 40th Statewide Investigating Grand Jury for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania:

Father Thomas Smith was ordained in 1967. In 1981 he was assigned to Saint Mary of the Assumption.  Bishop Michael Murphy was first told of child sexual abuse perpetrated by Smith against a 17-year-old boy in January 1984 while at Saint Mary’s.  Smith resigned on January 20, 1984.

From February 1984 to October 1984, Smith was placed on “health leave.”  In reality, he was in residential psychological therapy.  In October, Smith was released and reassigned by Murphy to Saint Joseph’s in DuBois, Pennsylvania until February 1985.  In February 1985, Smith was transferred to Saint Hippolyte in Guys Mills, Pennsylvania for approximately one month. From March 1985 to August 1985, Murphy sent Smith to residential psychological therapy once again. Official Diocesan records obtained by the Grand Jury show this was designated as a leave of absence.   Upon his release, Smith was sent to Saint Joseph’s in Mount Jewett in August 1985. After about one month at Saint Joseph’s, Smith was transferred to Saint Teresa in Union City, Pennsylvania where he remained for approximately 10 months. In spite of Smith’s history of child abuse, and his need for continued treatment, Murphy continued to permit Smith’s contact with children. While at St. Teresa’s, Smith sent a letter to Murphy describing his gifts and accomplishments in “working with young people.”

In December 1986, Smith was placed on a leave of absence yet again.  This leave of absence continued for almost a year while Smith was returned to residential psychological therapy. In January 1987, Diocesan records indicated that the treatment facility informed Murphy that Smith suffered from a “driven, compulsive, and long standing” obsession with sexually assaulting children. The facility warned that since his first treatment in 1984, Smith had not stopped sexually assaulting children and that interdiction was needed.

These secret Diocesan records obtained by the Grand Jury pursuant to a subpoena showed that, while in treatment, Smith admitted to sexually molesting at least fifteen children. Smith stated that all of his victims were boys, some as young as seven. Smith had raped them anally and orally. This information was provided to Murphy in November 1987.   That same month, Smith was discharged from the facility.

In spite of Smith’s confession to sexually violating at least fifteen prepubescent boys, Murphy assigned Smith to the parish of Saint Joseph’s in Warren on December 7, 1987. Approximately three months later, in March 1988, Father Glenn Whitman wrote a letter to Smith and advised him of recent conduct that placed him in violation of his aftercare agreement with St. Luke’s Institute.  Regardless, Smith continued in ministry at Saint Joseph’s with the approval of Murphy, and, beginning in 1990, Trautman.

On July 25, 1990, Whitman wrote a memo to Trautman and noted two known parishes affected by Smith’s abuse. He also wrote that “The number of victims is not clearly known.” The same day, Trautman wrote his own memo regarding Smith.  In this document, Trautman wrote that he had met with Smith about his problems and that Smith was a person of “candor and sincerity.” Trautman noted that after another year and a half he would consider a new assignment for Smith because he wanted Smith to complete his aftercare and was fearful of future litigation.

Smith was so relieved to find a refuge in Trautman that he wrote to him on July 17, 1990 with respect to the aforementioned meeting.  He thanked Trautman for truly caring about him.  In reference to his desire to stay in active ministry, Smith wrote, “And so why did I worry?”

On July 20, 1992, Smith was transferred to the Holy Rosary Parish in Erie, Pennsylvania by Trautman.  Smith was very active in the “Isaiah 43” ministry program, a program for Catholic children.

A little over a year after Smith was transferred to Holy Rosary, Trautman received a letter. Dated September 20, 1993, the letter was from the parents of one of Smith’s victims.  They described the abuse suffered by their son when he was only nine years old. Trautman wrote to St. Luke’s Institute, one of Smith’s treatment providers, and requested information as to the future ministry of Smith. Among other things, Trautman noted that he was “worried about appearances” and that “Father Smith does participate in the Isaiah 43 Program which takes him outside of the Diocese. I have no supervision of his activity away from the Diocese; it is an act of trust in him.” Trautman explained his sudden interest in Smith’s activities, stating, “The mother of this individual has raised concerns about Father Smith’s involvement in Isaiah 43 since there are youth present for this type of retreat.”

St. Luke’s Institute responded on December 28, 1993. Trautman was informed that Smith had failed to report his involvement with the Isaiah 43 program as part of his continued aftercare. Trautman sent a letter to Smith and informed him that his duties at Holy Rosary would be altered. However, Trautman permitted Smith to remain in the Isaiah 43 program until he completed his duties there in March 1994.

The church bulletin for the Holy Rosary Parish, January 1994, announced the assignment of Father Thomas Smith, Parochial Vicar, to several chaplaincy positions in the Erie area beginning at the end of March 1994 and noted that Smith would remain in residence at Holy Rosary with the title of Resident and Weekend Assistant. This assignment permitted Smith to roam freely about the Diocese, serving as a chaplain with all the authority and power of the priesthood. Moreover, he continued to be a friendly face in residence at the parish and a weekend assistant. Nowhere in the bulletin was it indicated that Trautman notified the parishioners that Smith had been in treatment since 1984 due to sexually abusing children, nor was it noted that Smith admitted to such conduct with as many as fifteen boys in 1987.  Nowhere did it warn that the Diocese was aware that he had re-offended and that the offenses included anal and oral sex with prepubescent boys.  These warnings were conspicuously absent because Trautman failed to warn his own parishioners of the danger Smith posed to their children.

That same month, all Pennsylvania Bishops received a confidential letter from the Most Reverend Joseph V. Adamec, Bishop of the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown.  Adamec and the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown were involved in the high profile litigation of child sexual abuse offenses perpetrated by Father Francis Luddy.  As discovered by the Thirty-Seventh Statewide Investigating Grand Jury in their investigation of the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown, Adamec and the Diocese were aware of sexual offenses committed by Luddy.  Documentation within their secret archives contained incriminating information regarding numerous priests who had molested children.  In Adamec’s letter to the other Bishops, he explained the steps he had taken to protect the secret archives from litigation.  Notations on the document appear to indicate that Trautman took note of Diocesan records which Adamec was forced to disclose, and that the Diocese’s motions in the case, such as seeking bifurcation, jury sequestration, and to dismiss based on a “time bar,” were being denied.

Meanwhile, Smith was unhappy with his new assignment and sought a reprieve from Murphy, his first enabler.  Murphy, now retired, reached out to Trautman on behalf of Smith and another priest seeking greater leniency.  Trautman responded by letter on May 6, 1994. Trautman explained that he had not been overly restrictive but that the Diocese could not adopt a “posture” less than what Pittsburgh had done.  The Grand Jury noted that Trautman did not cite to the evils of child sexual abuse as the external pressure which warranted the restriction of offending priests. Rather, Trautman provided Murphy a copy of an article from Time Magazine on “this problem” and stated that “[t]he article is vicious and demonstrates, once again, the need for vigilance on the part of the church.”

Ultimately, Smith served as a chaplain as described in the Holy Rosary church bulletin until his retirement in March 2002.   In April 1996, Smith wrote to Trautman and asked to be appointed to the board of the local YMCA, as well as to be returned to the Isaiah 43 program. Trautman was aware that Smith continued to seek contact with children and elected not to warn anyone.

Due to the national coverage following the article about the Archdiocese of Boston, Trautman was forced to field letters from concerned parishioners and answer inquiries from the local press. On January 31, 2002, Trautman wrote to parents of one of Smith’s victims and stated, “I believe appropriate action has been taken in the fact that there is no parish assignment and there is a definite curtailing of his ministry.” On March 15, 2002, Trautman gave an interview to a news reporter and stated, “we have no priest or deacon or layperson that I know of that has, in any way, a pedophile background.” Smith retired that same month and was still a Roman Catholic priest.

By April 2002, some victims had begun litigation in connection with their past abuse.  In a letter dated April 24, 2002, from counsel for the Diocese to the attorney for one of Smith’s victims, the following statement was made:

“[I]t must be understood that we cannot simply write checks because an event occurred 20, 30, or 40 years ago, but we must limit our assistance to rehabilitation and encourage people such as your client to attempt to put the past behind them and move on with their lives.”

By February 2003, it appeared that Smith had moved on with his own life.  A February 26, 2003, memo by Trautman documented that Smith had obtained employment as a counselor at “Turning Point” and that Trautman had relied on Smith’s word that he disclosed his past abuses to them.

Trautman wrote a memo on July 22, 2003, documenting that Turning Point had made a complaint. Smith had never disclosed his history of child sexual abuse offenses to them. Trautman documented that “I felt he had made a complete recovery from alcoholism and sexual abuse. He had been faithful to his treatment program and gives every indication  of having taken full responsibility for his actions.”

Under public pressure, Trautman submitted a formal request to the Vatican on November 10, 2004, and requested the laicization of Smith.  Now that Trautman needed a basis to remove Smith from the priesthood he acted with candor.  Contrary to nearly every one of Trautman’s previous statements regarding Smith, Trautman now disclosed his knowledge to the Vatican in a confidential letter.  Trautman admitted that the Diocese of Erie had been aware of Smith’s abuses since at least 1987.  Trautman disclosed that Smith abused boys between 7 and 12 years of age. He described Smith’s acts as chilling and noted that Smith used physical force to bring about the offenses and threats to secure the secrecy of his crimes.  Trautman wrote that Smith invoked the name of God to justify his actions against his victims while using their faith and the priesthood to manipulate them and secure their silence. Trautman noted that, even after Smith was told to avoid any and all occasions that would place him in the company of minors, he continued to do so in a public manner. For example, he was photographed assisting high school students in the collection of food for the poor and the photograph was published in the local newspaper.  Trautman summarized Smith’s worldview and stated that he saw his victims as objects rather than people.

The Vatican finally acted in 2006 and removed Smith from the priesthood. Smith’s former flock was never told the reason for his removal. On August 3, 2006, Trautman directed the pastor of St. Hippolyte to make the following notation in the record of the parish with respect to Smith: “Dismissed from the clerical state on June 10, 2006 by Pope Benedict XVI. Nothing else need be noted.”

Additional information regarding the widespread sexual abuse of children within the Catholic Dioceses of Pennsylvania and the systemic cover up by senior church officials is compiled in the Pennsylvania Diocese Victim’s Report published by the Pennsylvania Attorney General following a two-year grand jury investigation.  A complete copy of the Report is available on the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s website.