Fr. Thomas M. O’Donnell – Diocese of Pittsburgh

| Dec 21, 2018 | Abuser Profiles, Catholic Church

Father Thomas O’Donnell

Diocese of Pittsburgh

Ordained: 1960

Removed: 2000

Retired: 2004

Assigned as follows:

  • 6/1960-5/1964: St. Kieran (Lawrenceville, PA)
  • 5/1964-6/1966: St. John the Evangelist (Pittsburgh, PA)
  • 6/1966-8/1971: St. Norbert (Pittsburgh, PA)
  • 9/1971-4/1975: St. Clare (Clairton, PA)
  • 5/1975-6/1983: Annunciation (Pittsburgh, PA)
  • 6/1983-7/2000: St. Wendelin (Carrick, PA)
  • 7/2000-9/2001: St. Maximilian Kolbe (Homestead, PA)
  • 9/2001-11/2005: St. John Vianney (Pittsburgh, PA)
  • 11/2005-8/2006: St. Cyril of Alexandria (Pittsburgh, PA)
  • 8/2006-7/2014: St. Mary of Mercy (Pittsburgh, PA)
  • 7/2014-Present: Epiphany (Pittsburgh, PA)

Summary of Sexual Abuse Allegations against Father Thomas O’Donnell:

In 1988, parents complained to administrators from the Diocese of Pittsburgh at St. Wendelin that Father Thomas M. O’Donnell was requiring boys, who were around the age of 12 at the time, to shower after basketball games. O’Donnell reportedly, was also making them get weighed while they were naked. Many parents expressed displeasure that this was occurring while O’Donnell was present in the locker room and shower areas. The parents also noted that some of the children were embarrassed to get weighed while naked. However, they ultimately agreed to it at the insistence of O’Donnell.

In November 1988, Father Guay and Father Nowicki met with O’Donnell who acknowledged that while these incidents did occur, it was an error in judgment. He further stated that other coaches were present in the locker room at the time. O’Donnell was advised he was not to be in the locker room or shower areas moving forward.

In November 1988, a group of 10 parents sent a letter requesting that O’Donnell completely resign from the athletic programs due to his inappropriate behaviors in the locker room. They noted that it had been confirmed with the Director of Diocesan Athletic Programs that there was no requirement that the children be weighed or measured. The letter further stated that O’Donnell had already defied a June 1987 order given to him by Father Rutkowski to stay out of the locker rooms.

In early December 1988, Rutkowski sent a letter to O’Donnell wherein he outlined the complaints against him. He informed O’Donnell that he was to disassociate himself from the supervision of the athletic programs. Rutkowski also required that O’Donnell inform his coaching staff that showers and weigh-ins were not mandatory.

He advised that Diocesan officials met with O’Donnell on November 30, 1988, and that the matter was now resolved.

Father O’Donnell Disregards the Diocese of Pittsburgh’s Instruction

From late December 1988 through March 2002, parents continued to provide reports to the Diocese that O’Donnell had engaged in inappropriate behavior with children. In one instance, a parent disclosed that her son went on two trips with O’Donnell. During one of those trips, one of the boys had to sleep with O’Donnell twice.

Another parent recounted that when her son and other players returned to St. Wendelin to shower after away games, it made O’Donnell excited. Another set of parents revealed that their son had a sexual conversation with O’Donnell and they requested that O’Donnell be removed from all children’s programs. One parent advised that before her son entered eighth grade, he went on a trip with O’Donnell and other boys. When her son returned, he was very upset and stated that he did not want to go anywhere with O’Donnell again.

He told her that O’Donnell permitted the boys to undress in front of him, which made him [her son] uncomfortable. Then, a set of parents claimed that after their son went to a local wave pool with O’Donnell, O’Donnell insisted that her son and the other boys shower with him before getting into his car.

Finally, a parent wrote a letter wherein she expressed that she could have done more to protect her child and others from O’Donnell. She stated that on one occasion, her son went to help O’Donnell with chores. When O’Donnell asked her son to wash the dog, O’Donnell insisted that her son get completely naked. Her son complied. The mother indicated that she approached O’Donnell about it, but no further information was provided about this encounter.

In January 1989, the results of a psychological evaluation indicated that O’Donnell had no psychiatric issues. He was noted to be mentally fit to perform any duty.

In early June 2000, Bishop Wuerl notified O’Donnell that he was being appointed a full-time judge to the Diocesan Marriage Tribunal and was relieved of his pastoral duties at St. Wendelin. On March 30, 2004, O’Donnell officially retired from the Diocese.

In November 2005, Wuerl assigned O’Donnell residency at St. Cyril to continue his role as a part-time judge and to assist the current pastor. Shortly afterward, the principal of the St. Cyril grade school received two complaints concerning issues surrounding O’Donnell and his interactions with young children in his previous assignments.

Shortly after the initial complaints regarding O’Donnell’s residency at St. Cyril, Father Young notified Wuerl of these complaints as well as O’Donnell’s past inappropriate behavior around children. Young noted that after reviewing O’Donnell’s file and convening the Clergy Task Force, there was unanimous concern about that information surfacing in the public.

They further indicated that a change of residency may be necessary to avoid a potential ” …groundswell of gossip that might harm the reputation of one of our priests or possibly appear to be negative in terms of the diocese dealing with a situation that occurred in the past.”

In early January 2006, Diocesan officials met with O’Donnell regarding the recent complaints made to the principal of St. Cyril. O’Donnell stated that he never did anything to harm a child. The Diocesan staff cautioned O’Donnell not to spend time at the school for any reason moving forward.

O’Donnell Defies the Diocese Again

In March 2006, the Diocese of Pittsburgh contacted the principal at St. Cyril to ensure that there were no further allegations brought to her attention. The principal responded that while there were no new complaints, some of the children had remarked that O’Donnell was very nice to them during the First Reconciliation ceremony. The next day, Diocesan officials held another meeting with O’Donnell wherein he was questioned about why he was present during the First Reconciliation ceremony when he was cautioned not to be anywhere near the school.

O’Donnell responded that he had been asked to help by Father Bruney. O’Donnell was instructed again not to be around the school for any reason.

In November 2006, O’Donnell applied to an Apostleship of the Sea program which required a letter from the Diocese that indicated that he was in good standing. Rushofsky, who had been present for the meetings with O’Donnell about the complaints against him, provided the letter.

Diocese of Pittsburgh Omits Father O’Donnell’s Accusations

In January 2014, O’Donnell requested permission to attend a memorial mass performed
by the United States Navy. The Navy required that a Diocesan representative provide a letter of good standing in order for O’Donnell to attend.

The Diocese not only provided a letter of good standing, but also provided a form which indicated that all files and records maintained by the church about O’Donnell had been reviewed and the Diocese could attest to the following statements, inter alia: “No accusations of misconduct have ever been made against him, nor has he ever been involved in any incident, to my knowledge, which has led to potential or public scandal;” and “To the best of my knowledge, he has never engaged in sexual behavior inconsistent with priestly celibacy, nor has he ever acted in an inappropriate manner with minors.”

Father Mark Eckman initialed the statements and signed the form attesting that O’Donnell was fully permitted to participate in the memorial event.

O’Donnell is still alive and has been living in Fort Myers, Florida for the last 10 years.  As of August 2018, the grand jury believed he was still in active ministry at Epiphany parish in Pittsburgh.

However, according to a statement made by the Diocese of Pittsburgh after the release of the grand jury report, O’Donnell was removed from parish ministry in 2000, and has been retired since 2004.  His name appears on the Diocese of Pittsburgh’s list of allegations that were not substantiated, meaning that the allegations were deemed false.  However, despite that finding, the Diocese of Pittsburgh has taken the unusual step of restricting his faculties as if the Bishop believed the allegations.

O’Donnell was first named publicly as accused in a priest profile in the 2018 Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report. He currently resides at St. John XXIII Villas in Fort Myers.

Horowitz Law is a law firm representing victims and survivors of sexual abuse by Catholic priests and other clergy in the Diocese of Pittsburgh. 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 Pittsburgh may have legal options, but filing deadlines will apply so do not delay in reaching out to us.

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