Fr. Augustine “Gus” Giella – Diocese of Harrisburg
Fr. Gus Giella in 1959
Fr. Gus Giella in 1987.
Ordained: 1950 (Archdiocese of Newark)
Named in civil lawsuits: 1992, 2001
Assigned in the Archdiocese of Newark and Diocese of Harrisburg as follows:
- St. Catherine (Glen Rock, NJ)
- Church of the Epiphany, Cliffside Park, NJ)
- Our Lady Of Sorrows (Jersey City, NJ)
- Holy Trinity (Hackensack, NJ)
- 1980-1982 St. Joseph (Hanover, PA)
- 1982-1988 St. John the Evangelist (Swatara Township/Enhaut, PA)
Giella was also assigned to a leadership role at Bishop McDevitt High School.
SUMMARY OF ALLEGATIONS AGAINST FR. AUGUSTINE GIELLA
After 29 years of ministry in the Archdiocese of Newark, Fr. Augustine Giella suddenly sought permission to minister in the Diocese of Harrisburg. In December 1979, the Archbishop of Newark attested to Giella’s good standing in Newark in support of Giella’s request to minister in Harrisburg. Purportedly, during his interview he told Harriburg’s Auxiliary Bishop that he was not likely to be named pastor of any parishes in Newark because of the competition, so Harrisburg offered a better opportunity for the nearly 60-year-old priest.
While assigned St. John the Evangelist, Giella became close with a large family from the parish. There were eight girls in the family. He began sexually abusing five of the eight girls almost immediately, and eventually abused other members of the family. According to the 2018 grand jury report, Giella’s “conduct included a wide array of crimes cognizable as misdemeanors or felonies under Pennsylvania law.”
Several of the sisters testified before the Pennsylvania grand jury in 2016. They testified to Giella’s deviant sexual behavior, as well as his predilection for their urine, pubic hair, and menstrual blood, which he regularly collected from them. The sisters testified that he even ingested some of the “samples” he collected from them.
The Diocese of Harrisburg covered up and otherwise ignored multiple reports regarding Giella’s misconduct with teenage girls in the 1980s and 1990s.
- The 1987 Reports
Notably, the Diocese of Harrisburg received a report in 1987 that Giella insisted on watching a female student at Bishop McDevitt High School while she used the bathroom. She told her teacher that Giella also did “wrong things with children.” The information was reported to another priest, who immediately informed the Chancery in Harrisburg. The former teacher testified before the grand jury in 2017. Her testimony was consistent with a 1987 memo authored by Chancery officials and stored in the Diocese of Harrisburg’s secret archives under lock and key until it was produced by the Diocese under grand jury subpoena. According to the memorandum, Giella was known to engage in similar behavior with other girls, including one of the sisters he was abusing. According to the 1987 memo, a teacher at Bishop Neumann School reported that her student – the sister in question – told her that Giella watched her every time she had to use the restroom in his presence. A third female student had made a report that Giella “acted improperly towards her.” Chancery officials opted to do nothing, apparently upon advice of diocesan attorneys.
Giella remained in ministry until he voluntarily retired, a priest in good standing, in 1988. As noted by the grand jury, “in the the approximately five years that followed the Overbaugh memorandum [1988-1993], Giella continued to sexually abuse the girls identified in the Overbaugh memorandum, which included a reference to the family of girls.”
- The 1992 reports and Giella’s arrest.
In 1992, under the leadership of new Bishop Nicholas Dattilo, the Diocese of Harrisburg received a report that Giella was still abusing girls in the Diocese of Harrisburg. In July 1992, a parish priest wrote to the Chancery outlining the allegations made by the family of a 12 year old girl, whose nude photographs had been found in Giella’s home. Giella admitted to having taken the photos of the girl, and added that he had sexually abused after first watching her bathe. “As time went on they became more comfortable with each other and the embraces became more intense and involved some fondling on his part,” according to the priest’s memo to Harrisburg leaders.
The family also reported the abuse to New Jersey and Pennsylvania law enforcement. Police executed a search warrant on Giella’s residence, where they found “young girl’s panties, plastic containers containing pubic hairs identified by initials, twelve vials of urine, soiled panties, sex books, feminine sanitary products (used), numerous photographs of girls in sexually explicit positions, and some photos depicting children in the act of urination.”
- Giella’s arrest and the first civil lawsuit
Giella was arrested in August 1992. There is no evidence that any Harrisburg Chancery official (or any other priest in the Harrisburg Diocese) reported any allegations about Giella to police at any time.
Giella admitted to all of the allegations against him and was charged with child pornography and sexual abuse of minors. After his arrest, numerous women called police in Hackensack, New Jersey, to report that they had been fondled and otherwise sexually abused by Giella as minors, including some of the sisters from the family of eight. Their mother, who was told of the misconduct around this time, confronted the Vicar General and asked why the Diocese never took any action against Giella. Instead, Msgr. Hugh Overbaugh, the author of the 1987 memorandum, reportedly told the mother, “I always wondered why you were letting them go to the rectory.”
The family sued the Diocese of Harrisburg in 1992; the matter eventually settled after Giella’s death but included an onerous confidentiality provision that required total secrecy on the part of the victims and their family. The 1987 Overbaugh memorandum was never produced in the litigation, which could be considered a clear, sanctionable violation of court rules if it was responsive to any document requests by the plaintiffs’ attorneys.
Giella died in 1993 while awaiting trial.
In December 2019, two of the sisters sexually abused by Giella filed civil lawsuits against the Archdiocese of Newark under a new New Jersey law that allows the filing of lawsuits for previously-expired claims for a limited “window period.”
Horowitz Law is a law firm representing victims of sexual abuse in the Diocese of Harrisburg and throughout Pennsylvania. The Diocese of Harrisburg filed for federal bankruptcy protection in February 2020. Anyone sexually abused by a priest or employee of the Diocese of Harrisburg may be entitled to file a claim against the Diocese in these bankruptcy proceedings, but very strict filing deadlines apply. Most victims of abuse in the Diocese of Harrisburg will never be able to take action against the Diocese of Harrisburg if they miss this bankruptcy filing deadline, so it is important that you contact us immediately to discuss your potential case.