Father James Gaffney
Diocese of Allentown
Left ministry: 2002
Assigned as follows:
- 1985-1987: St. Ursula (Fountain Hill, PA)
- 1987-1991: Reading Central Catholic High School (Reading, PA)
- 1987-1992: St. Catherine of Siena (Mt. Penn, PA)
- 1992: Absent on Sick Leave (Serv. of Paraclete)
- 1992-1995: St. Jane Frances de Chantal (Easton, PA)
- 1994-1995: Absent on Sick Leave (Serv. of Paraclete)
- 1995: Notre Dame of Bethlehem (Bethlehem, PA)
- 1995: St. Mary of the Assumption (Coaldale, PA)
- 1995-1999: Six Shenandoah, PA parishes
- 1999-2002: St. Patrick (Pottsdale, PA)
Summary of Sexual Abuse Allegations against Fr. James Gaffney:
Fr. James Gaffney was ordained a priest in 1985, who served in multiple parishes in the Diocese of Allentown. According to media reports, his name was included on the Diocese 2018 list of clergy credibly accused of child sexual abuse. He was also named publicly as accused in the 2018 PA Grand Jury report. It noted that Gaffney wrote to the Diocese of Allentown in 1980 to tell officials that he was “convinced beyond all doubt that I need time off and will not return to the Roman seminary or any other seminary this year.” In 1982, Diocese of Allentown evaluators recommended dropping Gaffney from priestly training all together. Despite this fact, he was eventually ordained.
According to the documents reviewed by the grand jury, Gaffney was the subject of numerous complaints of sexual misconduct throughout the 1980s and 1990s. He was reportedly engaging in sexual contact with several vulnerable adult women that he was counseling. These allegations led to Gaffney undergoing inpatient sexual offender treatment at the notorious Servants of the Paraclete treatment facility in Jemez Springs, NM. However, in our experience, it is unusual for a priest accused of sexual misconduct with adult women, whom the Church views as capable of consensual relationships, to be sent for inpatient treatment even once. Typically, inpatient treatment at the Servants of the Paraclete is reserved for priests who have been accused of sexual misconduct with minors for whom all other attempts at “correction” have failed.
According to media reports, in 1999, a woman reported to the Diocese of Allentown that she was sexually abused by Gaffney as a minor while he was assigned to St. Ursula’s parish in the mid-1980s. She did not provide more details in her report, so no action was taken. In 2002, her mother approached the Diocese of Allentown to renew the report, and provided additional information. Specifically, she reported that her daughter was a 14-year-old 8th grader working in the rectory at the time of the abuse. Under the pretext of measuring her body parts, Gaffney made the girl undress and touched her all over. Gaffney denied the allegations when confronted by the Diocese of Allentown, but decided to take a leave of absence from which he never returned.
In 2002, another victim filed a civil lawsuit against the Diocese of Allentown alleging that she was sexually abused by Gaffney while she attended Reading Central Catholic High School in 1990. She was undergoing counseling with Gaffney while her parents went through a divorce, which he used to exploit her into a sexual relationship. She reported that Gaffney would often discuss graphic sexual topics, which progressed to fondling and, eventually, sexual intercourse with the girl.
In late 2004, a third woman reported to the Diocese of Allentown that she was abused by Gaffney from approximately 1986-1987 at St. Catherine of Siena in Mt. Penn. She too worked in the rectory answering phones and was in counseling with Gaffney due to an unstable home life. She reported hugs from Gaffney that soon turned inappropriate, “which led to sexual arousal.” Presumably, the grand jury is suggesting that he became erect and rubbed his body against the girl.
The Diocese of Allentown found two of the three allegations to be credible upon review, and, according to documents reviewed during the grand jury investigation, concluded that the second allegation was “entitled to a presumption of truth” as well.
Though Gaffney took a nine-year leave of absence from the Diocese of Allentown, he continued to receive benefits. During that time he worked as a college professor, and the Diocese of Allentown never disclosed his history of misconduct. In 2011, the Diocese of Allentown petitioned the Vatican for Gaffney’s removal from the priesthood (laicization), which was eventually granted.
James Gaffney testified before the grand jury in 2016 and 2017, at which time he admitted to sexual contact with at least one female student. When asked point blank if he had sexual contact with other children during his priesthood, he answered, “yes, it is possible.” He blamed a bad memory for his inability to recall specifically one way or the other, though he was able to provide significant details of his sexual contact with the girl he admitted to abusing.
Horowitz Law is a law firm representing victims and survivors of sexual abuse by Catholic priests and other clergy in the Diocese of Allentown. If you need a lawyer because you were sexually abused by a priest in Pennsylvania, contact our office today. Although many years have passed, those abused by Catholic clergy in the Diocese of Allentown may have legal options against the Diocese of Allentown.