Father John Mulholland
Archdiocese of Philadelphia
Accused: 1968, 1970, 1973
Leave of Absence: 2005-2008
Named in civil lawsuit: 2017
Assigned as follows:
- St. Patrick (Kennett Square, PA)
- St. Joseph (Hatboro, PA)
- St. Anastasia (Newtown Square, PA)
- Blessed Virgin Mary (Darby, PA)
- Holy Child (Philadelphia, PA)
- Stella Maris (Philadelphia, PA)
- St. Francis Assisi (Norristown, PA)
- Immaculate Conception (Levittown, PA)
- St. Dominic (Philadelphia, PA)
- Immaculate Mary Nursing Home (Philadelphia, PA).
Summary of Sexual Abuse Allegations against Father John Mulholland:
Father John Mulholland was ordained a priest in 1965 and served in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. He served in multiple parishes throughout his career. According to the Philadelphia 2005 Grand Jury Report, the Archdiocese knew about allegations of extremely inappropriate sexual conduct by Mulholland for nearly 40 years before he quietly retired.
- THE PLAN FOR AN INNOCENT TWO-WEEK “TORTURE TRIP” WITH TEEN BOYS IN 1968
According to media reports, in August 1968, a mother brought the pastor of St. Joseph’s parish two letters written by Mulholland to her young son earlier in the summer. The boy left for a two-week vacation with the priest just before his mother found the letters. The letters had graphic cut-out images of people engaged in bondage play, and also included the following paragraph:
“Plan and prepare to break me on vacation. If you can get me to beg to be punished by you even more and beg to be your slave – I will offer a just homage payment – such as – you can be my financial bookkeeper for the school term, possessing the checkbook with signed blank checks – or an outright fee each month of maybe 10% of the balance. You really have no imagination – this is your chance – take over – become master in fact as well as word – make me know what it means to squirm, sweat and fear and to understand what slave means.”
The letter also refers to Mulholland’s sexual activities with underaged boys at his first parish, St. Patrick.
The second letter said that he intended to prove his submission to the boy by “kneeling next to the toilet when master craps then wiping ass with paper then with tongue. Also being forced to lick master’s ass and kiss it frequently.” The letter also mentioned the priest’s desire to involve other boys in the parish in their sexual activities.
Father John Mulholland admitted to Chancery officials that he wrote the letters but said they were merely about testing the boy’s physical strength by wrestling with him and that it was all innocent, even the parts about defecating on tied-up classmates who would also be on the “two week torture trip.”
The boy later told his parents that Mulholland forced him to engage in sexual activities.
- ARCHDIOCESE RESPONSE: IF MOM WON’T PUSH THE ISSUE, WE DO NOT NEED TO DO ANYTHING
Internal Archdiocese of Philadelphia memos indicate that the Vicar General of the Archdiocese wanted to take no action unless the mother of the boy pursued the matter, and would be guided by how far she threatened to pursue it. Plainly put, if she did not go to police or the media, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia saw no reason to take action that could draw attention to Mulholland’s misconduct itself. Mulholland was directed to have no further contact with the boy, which should have been an easy restriction given that Mulholland was transferred to a new parish days before leaving for the camping trip. He should also avoid traveling to Hatboro in case he ran into the mother, since it might incite her to take action.
There was also a brief discussion about having Mulholland treated by a psychiatrist, but the Vicar General felt comfortable with Mulholland’s insistence that he “knew himself well enough and that he did not need the help of a psychiatrist,” according to the grand jury.
- THE 1970 REPORTS FROM A PASTOR AND C.Y.O. LEADERS
In 1970, the Chancery received a new report that Father John Mulholland had tied up a young boy at the next parish, and that Mulholland was jabbing him with some type of instrument all over his young body. The report was made by a college student who also assisted with the parish CYO. He personally received information from the boys in the parish about camping trips they went on with the priest (since he could still take boys on long trips), including that Mulholland “wrestled” with them but there were no real wrestling moves. The CYO assistant also personally saw a boy with his head in the priest’s lap when he walked into a room unannounced. Another lay witness also corroborated the information, and added that Mulholland often took hours to drive boys home after activities when they lived near the church.
The pastor of the parish also told Chancery officials that Mulholland often had boys in his rectory bedroom frequently. There is no indication that the Archdiocese of Philadelphia ever told the St. Anastasia’s pastor about Mulholland’s history in his first two parishes or that Mulholland should not be hosting boys in his bedroom. During the investigation of these claims, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia learned that Mulholland regularly went back to St. Joseph in Hatboro to visit people as well. No one was monitoring Mulholland.
No action was taken to remove Father John Mulholland from ministry or alert parishioners to the danger he posed to children. While there was some discussion about transferring him in 1970 following the St. Anastasia’s allegations, the Archdiocese opted to leave him there since the vast majority of parents seemed not to suspect any wrongdoing. According to the grand jury report, “the explicit reason for the change of heart was because ‘the amount of scandal given seemed to lie only with a very small minority,’” citing an internal Archdiocesan document.
For a second time, there was also a discussion about a psychiatric evaluation, but that was abandoned when the Archdiocese of Philadelphia determined the risk of scandal at St. Anastasia’s was low. Instead, transfer and and a “Downingtown evaluation” (referring to the notorious St. John Vianney Center in Downingtown, Pennsylvania) were held over Mulholland’s head as (empty) threats in the event he messed up again.
- STILL MORE “PROBLEMS” REPORTED BY ANOTHER PRIEST IN 1973
In 1973, according to the grand jury report, another priest at St. Anastasia complained to the Archdiocese of Philadelphia that “the problems that were present about a year and a half ago…are still present,” without further explanation. He also suggested that a Chancery official speak with Mulholland because “there might be a need for professional help.” Nothing in the file indicates what “problems” were present a year and a half before the letter, but church experts say that child molestation was often referred to as “the problem” in documents created during that era, particularly if the victims were boys. In September 1972, about six months before the 1973 report, a psychiatrist at St. John Vianney in Downingtown wrote to the Archdiocese that Mulholland, “never contacted my office for the purpose of making an appointment as you had informed me he would.” No action was taken in response to this letter.
- MORE IGNORED SUGGESTIONS THAT MULHOLLAND SEE A PSYCHIATRIST
In 1973, the Vicar General wrote to the St. John Vianney psychiatrist informing him that the Archdiocese had again encouraged Mulholland to make an appointment. Mulholland was being transferred to a new parish in light of the Archdiocese’s policy to transfer priests every five years. The concern for a need to see a psychiatrist was not that the boys in the parish “would be subjected to the abuse of a demented priest,” as so eloquently observed by the grand jury, but rather “that the new parish might not tolerate Fr. Mulholland’s behavior as well as the parishioners at St. Anastasia had.” As the Vicar General put it, “the people in Fr. Mulholland’s present parish [St. Anastasia] have more or less accepted his way of going about the priesthood; however, the parishioners in the parish to which he might be assigned might find his ministry somewhat different since he tends to spend his time with a small group of people, especially teenagers.”
- MULHOLLAND IS TOLD IN 1990 HE WILL NEVER BE A PASTOR
Mulholland continued in ministry unrestricted and barely supervised for 30 more years. The only documented step that the Archdiocese of Philadelphia seems to have taken to prevent further abuse (albeit a totally ineffective one given the lack of supervision during Mulholland’s entire career), was to refuse his repeated requests to become a pastor. There is nothing in the file stating affirmatively why all of Mulholland’s requests to his archbishops were denied, but the grand jury drew the conclusion it was based upon Mulholland’s past misdeeds.
However, when Mulholland complained in 1996 that his pastor at St. Francis of Assisi took away his responsibility for the altar boys – a huge red flag that he was possibly abusing boys – Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua simply moved Mulholland to a new parish. In 2002, the pastor of that new parish, Immaculate Conception, asked for Mulholland to be removed from ministry. In addition to reporting that Mulholland was frequently absent from the parish, the pastor also said that Mulholland “is supposed to be in charge of the CYO [Catholic Youth Organization]. He does attend the meetings. It might be better if he did not.”
- THE ARCHDIOCESE HAS NO IDEA WHERE MULHOLLAND IS LIVING FOR THE BETTER PART OF A DECADE
Bevilacqua then assigned Mulholland to live at St. Dominic’s parish while working as a chaplain at a local nursing home. Six months after the assignment was to take effect, the Archdiocese learned that Mulholland never moved into the St. Dom’s rectory. Mulholland’s whereabouts from June 2002 (when he left Immaculate Conception) until his laicization in 2008 were unknown to the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, according to media reports.
- THE ARCHDIOCESE’S REVIEW BOARD SAYS 1968 LETTERS ABOUT TORTURE AND DEFECATION ARE NOT “SEXUAL ABUSE” SO MULHOLLAND CAN STAY IN MINISTRY
For a reason that is not entirely clear, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s internal review board would later review the 1968 allegations in 2004. It ultimately found that the 1968 letters were “quite disturbing” but that they did not constitute “sexual abuse” such that Mulholland’s ministry should be curtailed even after the adoption of “zero tolerance” policies in 2002. The Review Board recommended that Mulholland continue in ministry but suggested he was “a disturbed individual in need of mental health intervention.” This, despite several men telling the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s investigator that, as adults, they now recognize that Mulholland’s conduct with them as teenagers was sexual abuse.
According to the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, Mulholland was laicized (removed from the priesthood) by the Vatican in 2008. His ministry was never restricted.
Mulholland is believed to be alive and residing in the Feasterville Trevose, Pennsylvania, area. He is 80 years old.
Horowitz Law is a law firm representing victims and survivors of sexual abuse by Catholic priests and other clergy in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. 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 Archdiocese of Philadelphia may have legal options, but filing deadlines will apply so please do not delay in reaching out to us.