Father Michael Lawrence
Diocese of Allentown
Sick Leave: 1987
Assigned as follows:
- 1973-1974: St. Catharine of Siena (Reading, PA)
- 1974: Notre Dame High School (Easton, PA)/Sacred Heart (Miller Heights, PA)
- 1974-1975: St. Jane Frances de Chantal (Easton, PA)
- 1975-1977: St. Anne (Bethlehem, PA)
- 1977-1978: Central Catholic High School (Allentown, PA)/St. Lawrence (Catasauqua, PA)
- 1978-1980: Holy Trinity (Whitehall, PA)
- 1980-1982: St. Catharine of Siena (Reading, PA)
- 1982-1984: St. Anthony (Easton, PA)
- 1984: Notre Dame High School (Easton, PA)/St. Anthony (Easton, PA)
- 1984: St. Joseph (Easton, PA)
- 1984-1987: Immaculate Conception (Jim Thorpe, PA)
- 1987: Absent on Sick Leave
- 1987-1994: St. Paul (Allentown, PA)/Diocesan Ministry to the Aging
- 1998-2000: Catholic University (Washington, DC)
- 2000-2002: Courage (Diocesan support group for those with same-sex attraction)
- March 2002: Retired
Summary of Sexual Abuse Allegations against Fr. Michael Lawrence:
Fr. Michael Lawrence was ordained a priest in 1973, who served in multiple parishes in the Diocese of Allentown. According to media reports, in 2018, he was first named publicly as accused in the PA Grand Jury report. It noted that the Diocese had knowledge of Lawrence’s sexual attraction to minor children while he was still in seminary. Specifically, a 1970 evaluation by faculty members noted that he had “too much interest” in the younger students, a phrase that church experts have previously testified generally refers to a sexual interest in underage students. Yet, Lawrence was ordained and appears to have had no restrictions placed on his ministry. None of his parishioners were told of the faculty concerns.
According to the grand jury report, in 1981, Bishop Joseph McShea personally wrote to Lawrence to wish him well on his weekend retreat with youth from St. Catherine’s parish – which only serves to underscore how little the Diocese of Allentown concerned itself with the safety of children. Less than a year later, in 1982, the father of a young parishioner contacted his parish priest to report that his son was abused by Lawrence. The priest contacted the Diocese of Allentown and reported the details: while studying in the priest’s room, Lawrence initiated a graphic sexual discussion that led to a long period of fondling of the boy. When confronted with the allegation by the Diocese of Allentown, Lawrence admitted to the incident and corroborated the details the boy had provided. That same day, he was sent to St. John Vianney, a notorious treatment facility used by the Diocese of Allentown in Downington, Pennsylvania, for evaluation.
Despite his admission that he sexually molested a boy, the Diocese of Allentown assigned Lawrence to Notre Dame High School in Easton less than two years after his sexual offender evaluation in Downington.
Michael Lawrence continued in ministry until 1987. According to the grand jury report, the father who previously reported his son’s abuse continued to complain about Lawrence’s role in active ministry despite the allegations and he threatened to go public about it. Lawrence was removed from ministry abruptly on the advice of legal counsel. Lawrence agreed with the decision; the grand jury report contains a handwritten letter from Lawrence that the anxiety over the possibility of legal action from the family could cause him to act-out sexually as he had “in the past.” Lawrence was reassigned to the Diocesan tribunal, but his living situation during that time period is unclear.
As noted by the grand jury, [b]ut for the perseverance of the victim’s father, the Diocese would have returned Lawrence to active parish ministry as they had done time and time again, as documented within Diocesan records reviewed by the Grand Jury.” Memos to file by Chancery employees refer to the father as “almost irrational” and “very difficult to deal with,” leading them to conclude that he was capable of physical violence. Upon publication of Lawrence’s new role at the Chancery, the father again “complained bitterly” that it appeared that the Church was honoring Lawrence with a promotion in his duties. In response, the Chancery created a list of priests whose assignment should not be published in the future, so as to avoid future discomfort to the Chancery officials should another irate father have something to say about it.
In November 2009, the Diocese of Allentown received another report of abuse by Lawrence. He alleged that he was abused as a 13 year old boy, though no additional details as to the years or location were provided by the grand jury. Lawrence did not deny the allegation; he instead argued that the boy was 16, not 13, and therefore old enough to consent to the contact under Canon (Church) law.
In 2014, Bishop Barres reportedly informed the Vatican (Holy See) that he was not going to seek Lawrence’s laicization, instead recommending that the priest remain on retired status and receiving benefits, according to the grand jury report. However, as with many other priests who retired in 2002, the Diocese of Allentown insisted in its public release that it removed Lawrence in 2002 and that it tried several times to laicize Lawrence involuntarily with no success. Notably, the actual letter signed by Bishop Barres indicating that he would not seek laicization was included in the grand jury report, which undermines the Diocese of Allentown’s assertions.
He died in 2015.
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.