Fr. Paul Fisher – Diocese of Harrisburg

| Nov 13, 2018 | Abuser Profiles, Catholic Church

Fr. Paul Fisher – Diocese of Harrisburg

Ordained: 1995 (as a Norbertine priest)

Incardinated into the Diocese of Harrisburg: 2003

Confessed to viewing child pornography: 2011

Investigated by law enforcement: 2016

Removed from ministry: NEVER

Assigned as follows:

  • 1995-1997        St. Norbert (Paoli, PA)
  • 1997-1998        Archmere Academy (Claymont, DE)
  • 1998-2003        Queen of Peace (Millersburg, PA)
  • 2003-2009        Sacred Heart of Jesus (Cornwall, PA)
  • 2009-2011        St. Columba (Bloomsburg, PA)
  • 2011-2016        Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament (Harrisburg, PA)

Summary of Allegations against Fr. Paul Fisher:

According to the grand jury report, in 2011, then-Bishop Joseph McFadden issued a Decree to investigate possible criminal sexual activity by Fr. Paul Fisher after Fisher made self-incriminating statements regarding possible possession of child pornography.  Bishop McFadden ordered that the Decree and all materials relating to the internal investigation be kept in the Diocese of Harrisburg’s Secret Archive Files, which are kept under lock and key, and accessible only by the Bishop and his chancellor pursuant to Church law (referred to as “Canon Law”).  Fisher turned over his laptop and cell phone for a forensic examination by the Diocese (but not the police).

According to documents in his personnel file, the Decree and investigation followed an interview of Fisher where he admitted to searching for pornography by using search terms including “incest” and “really sick, abusive stories.”  He admitted that sometimes the male characters (e.g., the son or the brother) would often look under 18, but denied that he had any interest in the images. He cared only for the story itself, according to what he told the Diocese, but he admitted the images often depicted sexual activity, including penetration.  He also admitted to visiting websites where naked children were shown playing volleyball. Notably, the grand jury offers no context for why this interview took place at all – why was Fisher being asked such specific questions about his pornography habits to begin with?

A psychiatric evaluation was conducted and no images were found on either Fisher’s laptop or cell phone.  Bishop McFadden returned Fisher to ministry, albeit in a new parish – Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament in Harrisburg – and without telling a single parishioner what had transpired.

In 2016, when new Bishop Ronald Gainer arrived in Harrisburg, he ordered a review of the Secret Archive files.  Seeing the allegations against Fisher, he ordered a new investigation by his staff in June 2016.

As part of the investigation, Fisher’s new laptop, which he had only for a few months, was to be examined forensically.  After it was turned over to the Diocese voluntarily, Fisher rescinded his consent to search the laptop on the advice of an attorney.  According to the grand jury, a second forensic exam on the 2011 laptop yielded a questionable image saved to the hard drive, along with numerous illicit websites in his search history.  The information was turned over to law enforcement, but the results of that search were not yet available at the time the grand jury report was published in August 2018.

According to the grand jury, documents reflect multiple internal 2016 conversations about a psychological evaluation conducted on Fisher, though it is not clear if that referred to a second eval in 2016, or the original 2011 one.  At any rate, the documents expressed a “collective disappointment at the results of a risk assessment of Fisher” conducted by St. John Vianney, a notorious treatment facility in Downingtown, Pennsylvania, where many problem priests have been sent by Pennsylvania bishops.  The document referred to a “disappointment” in “the countermeasures [Fisher] was believed to have employed to invalidate the results of a polygraph.” It also indicated that Fisher’s “clarification on the polygraph question regarding masturbating to the images of minors, his persistent need to clarify his responses to our committee and his decision not to take a second polygraph test because of his belief that his answers ‘were always more than yes or no’ left Bishop Gainer with too little certitude about returning him to ministry.”

Initially, his file suggests that Gainer sought an arrangement with the Norbertine religious order – of which Fisher had been a member before his incardination in Harrisburg – to return Fisher to ministry under the supervision of the Norbertines.  For reasons not discussed by the grand jury, this never came to fruition.

Despite all of this concern and attempts to return Fisher to the Norbertines, shockingly, Fisher was assigned as pastor (the highest ranking priest in a parish) at St. Rose of Lima in York by Bishop Gainer in August 2016.  Bishop Gainer even celebrated the installation personally, according to the Diocese of Harrisburg website. Fisher is believed to have remained there until the Diocese of Harrisburg included his name on a list of accused priests released in August 2018, though no information was released by the Diocese that anyone alleged Fisher had inappropriate physical contact with a minor.

The Diocese of Harrisburg online directory indicates that Fisher is currently on a “personal leave of absence.”  The length the leave of absence and Fisher’s current location are unknown.

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.