Fr. Carl Steffen – Diocese of Harrisburg

| Nov 16, 2018 | Abuser Profiles, Catholic Church

Fr. Carl Steffen – Diocese of Harrisburg

Ordained: 1958

Retired: 2005

Died: 2015

Assigned as follows:
  • 1958-1959        Assumption BVM (Lancaster, PA)
  • 1960            Asst. Director for Youth for Boy Scouts
  • 1959-1961        St. Gertrude (Lebanon, PA)
  • 1961-1963        St. Joan of Arc (Hershey, PA)
  • 1963-1967        Bishop McDevitt High School (Harrisburg, PA)
  • 1963-1969        St. Joseph (Shamokin, PA)
  • 1969-1976        St. Francis Xavier (Gettysburg, PA)
  • 1978-2005        St. Ignatius Loyola (Buchanan Valley, PA)
Summary of Allegations against Fr. Carl Steffen:

According to documents reviewed by the grand jury, the Diocese of Harrisburg received the first allegation of sexual abuse against Fr. Carl Steffen in 1966 while he was assigned to Bishop McDevitt High School. According to internal memos, the Bishop of Harrisburg was told that several complaints had been received from “reputable parents” regarding “questionable procedure during interviews of high school boys… he was alleged to fondle, caress, and touch them.”  The priest assigned by the Bishop to investigate the allegations reported that he interviewed Carl Steffen, who “was in a cold sweat by the end of the interview.” Steffen explained away the allegations by saying that he sometimes sat on a couch with students and gave them a “gesture of friendliness” that they must be misunderstanding. Steffen remained at Bishop McDevitt High School unrestricted.

Documents also indicate that Carl Steffen had been warned to stop hearing children’s confessions face-to-face before 1966.

In the years that followed, the Diocese of Harrisburg received regular and repeated complaints that Steffen was having highly inappropriate and graphic discussions about sex with students (both male and female) at the school.  Boys on the football team also complained that he would come to practices and touch them in the same ways reported in 1966 (“fondles, caresses,” etc.).

Steffen was not removed from his position at Bishop McDevitt until 1969, three years after the allegations of improper touching were apparently first documented by the Diocese of Harrisburg.

In 1993, Steffen was accused of graphic sexual discussions with another high school aged boy; Steffen asked the boy about the size of his penis and his masturbation habits.  In 1997, a deacon at St. Ignatius reported to the Diocese that a family left the parish because Steffen asked their three sons about their sexual habits.

In 2002, the 1993 victim approached the Diocese of Harrisburg to reaffirm his complaint.  The man was sent to a psychologist for an examination. He told the Diocese’s psychologist that the misconduct with Steffen went well beyond inappropriate sexual discussions.  When he was 10, in 1968, he had his appendix removed. At some point, he found himself alone in his hospital room with Steffen, who rubbed the child’s penis (over the blankets) as he talked to the ailing boy about masturbation and climaxing.  He Diocesan psychologist opined that it was possible all Steffen was doing by speaking graphically and fondling the boy to an erection was taking a “parental role” in explaining the boy’s “evolving sexuality.” In any event, she opined that it could be “expedient for the priest in question to take early retirement.”

Steffen remained in ministry at the direction of Harrisburg Bishop Nicholas Dattilo.  He issued a decree in September 2002 closing the investigation against Steffen and saying, “insufficient evidence exists to suggest that an offense has been committed which is deserving of a penalty.  Father Steffen’s offense seems to have been a violation of prudence rather than an overt offense of sexual misconduct or abuse.” Notably, this was less than six months after Dattilo and the other bishops across the United States pledged a “zero tolerance” policy for allegations of sexual abuse in Dallas, Texas.

Steffen retired in 2005 as a priest in good standing.  He kept his faculties to minister, including his permission to hear confessions.  In 2009, the faculty regarding confessions was revoked by Bishop Kevin Rhoades after he concluded Steffen demonstrated a “consistent pattern of inappropriate sexual questioning within the sacrament of penance.”

Additionally, there is a two year gap in his assignment history (1976-1978) that is not explained by the Diocese of Harrisburg or by the grand jury. This is certainly a red flag that would merit additional investigation in litigation.

Steffen died in 2015. With the exception of the ability to hear confessions, he remained a priest in good standing of the Diocese of Harrisburg until his death. His death was announced via the Diocese of Harrisburg’s website.

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.

Contact us at 888-283-9922 or [email protected] to discuss your legal options today.