Father Michael “Barts” Barletta
Diocese of Erie
Assigned as follows:
- 1966-1975: Kennedy Christian High School (Hermitage, PA)
- 1966-1970: Sacred Heart (Sharon, PA)
- 1970-1975: St. Joseph (Sharon, PA)
- 1975-1994: Erie Cathedral Preparatory High School (Erie, PA)
- 1975-1994: St. Luke (Erie, PA)
- 1994-1995: Sabbatical (Southdown Treatment Facility)
- 1995-2002: Catholic Charities (Erie, PA)
- 1995-2002: St. Patrick (Erie, PA)
Summary of Sexual Abuse Allegations against Fr. Michael Barletta:
THE CONCERNS ABOUT BARLETTA START EARLY
Fr. Michael Barletta was ordained a priest in 1966, who served in multiple parishes in the Diocese of Erie. According to media reports, in 2018, he was named publicly as accused in the PA Grand Jury report. Diocesan Secret Archive documents reviewed by the grand jury revealed that Bishop Alfred Watson wrote in his own hand that there were concerns about Father Michael Barletta’s interactions with high school boys. He noted that Barletta “spends much time counselling high school boys – a small number only.” Nothing suggests additional action was taken or why the note had to be kept under Bishop’s lock and key as opposed to Barletta’s regular personnel file.
- A FELLOW PRIEST IS ORDERED BY BISHOP WATSON TO FORGET SEEING A NAKED BOY IN BARLETTA’S ROOM
A fellow priest testified during the grand jury investigation that he witnessed Father Michael Barletta “with his genitalia exposed in the presence of a child under the age of eighteen years old.” But that characterization only tells part of the story. When Barletta failed to hear confessions as scheduled, the priest-witness went to find him, and walked in on Barletta and the child in Barletta’s locked bedroom. The child was also naked from waist down, and hurried to dress when the priest-witness opened the door. Barletta did nothing to explain the situation or to cover his own nudity – he merely watched the boy struggle with his clothing. No reports were made to law enforcement. Instead, the priest-witness testified that he told Bishop Alfred Watson, who told him to forget about the incident, and to “go home and be a good priest.” His oath of obedience required the priest never to tell anyone else what he saw by the Bishop’s order. This incident occurred in 1969 or 1970.
BARLETTA’S REASSIGNMENT TO ERIE CATHEDRAL PREP, HIS PRETTY PEOPLE, AND ANOTHER REPORT OF ABUSE
At his next assignment, Erie Cathedral Prep, Barletta started the Teen Action Club, and its members were referred to as “Barletta’s pretty people.” The teens were active in community, church, athletics, and academics. They were given shoulder rubs and massages by Barletta, and also hypnotized. Some were taken on trips to Niagara Falls and Barletta’s private camp in rural Pennsylvania.
As discussed in greater detail below, a boy reported to Monsignor James Burke in early November 1988 that Barletta tried to give him (and other boys) naked massages at Barletta’s private camp. Nothing suggests any action is taken in response to this report.
BARLETTA ADMITS TO MOLESTING 25+ AND REMAINS IN MINISTRY
Sometime after Bishop Donald Trautman was installed in 1990 and before Barletta left Erie Cathedral Prep in 1994, Trautman had an extended conversation with a nun who reported that Barletta sexually abused at least 25 members of the Teen Action Club. She alleged that they were abused with acts of oral sex, naked massages, mutual fondling, and digital penetration, according to the grand jury report. The grand jury report does not indicate what prompted the discussion between the Bishop and the nun.
In any event, when confronted with the allegations at a time that is not clear from the grand jury report, Barletta admitted to all of the allegations, including that he committed abuse of at least 25 children.
FIVE CONCERNED PRIESTS FEAR BEING SUED OVER “THE PEDOPHILE PRIEST” AT ERIE CATHEDRAL PREP
In 1993, a staggering five priests approached the Chancery to report their concerns about Barletta’s behavior with boys at Erie Cathedral Prep. According to notes of the conversation with the “committee” of concerned priests, Barletta could be “crossing the line into the private lives of the students at Preparatory.” Barletta “is known to take pictures inside the boys’ locker room of the kids’ crotch area and… maintains a book of ‘crotch shots’ in his residence.” The priests also reported that Barletta took personal vacations with the best looking boys in the school, and also took students to San Francisco. The Diocese records also indicate that the priests feared that Cathedral Prep would be named in a lawsuit over the “pedophile priest” eventually, and that “18 years of Father Baretta” would “come to light” as a result.
Michael Barletta remained in ministry and at Erie Cathedral Prep.
THE DIOCESE FINALLY TAKES ACTION BUT IT IS TOO LITTLE TOO LATE
In 1994, according to the grand jury report, Barletta was treated at Southdown, a notorious facility near Toronto that specialized in treating pedophile priests, particularly those with substance abuse issues. “This information was never released to the parishioners of the Diocese of Erie. Barletta was housed, fed, and given therapy at Southdown at a significant cost to the parishioners of Erie…”
THE VICTIMS BEGIN TO COME FORWARD (AGAIN) IN 1994 AND DO NOT STOP FOR MORE THAN A DECADE
In late 1994, a man reported to the Diocese of Erie that he was abused by Barletta during his freshman year at Erie Cathedral Prep. The Diocese of Erie offered to pay for his therapy but that offer was rescinded after the victim gave an interview to the local newspaper. The victim alleged that “Barts,” as Barletta was known to the children, would sexually abuse him when the thought the boy was hypnotized. Barts was reportedly very intrigued by the child’s uncircumcised penis and watched him masturbate. Barletta denied all of the allegations.
Another victim came forward to report that he and the first 1994 victim went on a trip to Toronto with Barletta in high school. During the “retreat,” Barletta gave them naked massages, fondled them, and masturbated them. While Barletta eventually admitted he took the boys to Toronto years later, he has always denied any sexual contact with them.
Another man came forward to report similar abuse sometime between 1994 and 2003, when he was counted for the John Jay study of U.S. dioceses, but very little information about him or his allegations was disclosed to the grand jury. Yet another victim as classified as “not verified” in the John Jay study, and his allegations were not provided to the grand jury.
A fifth man reported his abuse in 2003. He was a student at Kennedy Christian High School. Barletta admitted to massaging the boy but denied additional allegations of sexual contact.
A sixth man reported his abuse in 2004. He alleged abuse during his junior and senior years at Erie Cathedral Prep in the context of getting massages from the priest. He was friends with the other men who reported their abuse at Erie Cathedral Prep and wanted to offer his corroboration.
Victim no. 7 attended Kennedy Christian High School. The incident he reported occurred Barletta’s camp while with several other boys. Barletta attempted to convince the boy to be on the receiving end of a naked massage, but the boy refused. When they returned, he told Monsignor James Burke. He dates the report as November 4, 1988. As noted by the grand jury, “neither Burke nor the Diocese took any action as a result of the 1988 reports.” Burke finally made a written note of the complaint more than a year later, on January 14, 1991, stating “I didn’t feel the need to go any further with the at that time.” In 2003, seeing that Barletta was still in ministry, the victim made a report to Monsignor Robert Smith. “Victim no. 7 told Smith that when he made his report to Burke in 1988, the Diocese already knew about Barletta as far back as his days at Kennedy Christian, yet they did nothing. This is an accurate statement.”
In 2009, an eighth victim reported his abuse by Barletta to the Diocese of Erie.
Barletta retired voluntarily and in good standing in 2002. He likely still receives a pension and benefits from the Diocese of Erie, which has taken no steps to have him removed from the priesthood or punished canonically.
Michael Barletta is believed to be residing in Erie, Pennsylvania.
Horowitz Law is a law firm representing victims and survivors of sexual abuse by Catholic priests and other clergy in the Diocese of Erie. 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 Erie may have legal options, but filing deadlines will apply so please do not delay in reaching out to us.