Reverend Chester “Chet” Gawronski
Diocese of Erie
Removed from ministry: 2002
Assigned as follows:
- 1976 – 1978: St. Joseph (Oil City, PA)
- 1978 – 1979: St. Bernard (Bradford, PA)
- 1979 – 1987: St. Agatha (Meadville, PA)
- 1979 – 1987: St. Bernadette (Saegertown, PA)
- 1987 – 1988: Leave of Absence
- 1988 – 1990: St. Patrick (Erie, PA)
- 1990 – 1992: St. Patrick and St. Hedwig (Erie, PA)
- 1993 – 1995: St. Patrick and St. Hedwig (Erie, PA)
- 1995 – 2002: St. Ann (Erie, PA)
Summary of Sexual Abuse Allegations against Fr. Chester Gawronski:
Fr. Chester “Chet” Gawronski was ordained a priest in 1976, who served in multiple parishes in the Diocese of Erie. According to media reports, in 2018, he was first named publicly as accused in the PA Grand Jury report. It noted in August 1986, the Diocese of Erie was notified that Fr. Gawronski fondled and masturbated a 13-year-old boy on multiple occasions from 1976 to 1977.
In early 1987, multiple sets of parents reported similar sexual abuse of their sons. According to internal documents reviewed by the grand jury, when contemplating the number of possible victims, an unidentified Chancery official said, “my guess is we would be counting fifteen or twenty over the years.”
Chester Gawronski had a modus operandi of molesting boys under the guise of checking the private areas of their body for cancer. The victims were so prolific that Diocese of Erie documents simply reference “cancer checks” when describing the nature of the abuse, since apparently anyone in the Chancery would know what was meant by that reference.
Other documents recorded the identities of families potentially affected by Gawronski’s abuse – and also recorded the identities of which families were likely to go to police or media. A letter to the family of one 13-year-old victim even cautioned them to “refrain from probing for any more information about past events as it may raise undue concern and attention on the part of people who aren’t involved.” Others were cautioned to exercise “discretion.”
Fr. Glenn Witman, the Secretary for Clergy Personnel during that time period, told one family, “I can’t stress enough the necessity for discretion in this matter. It is obvious at this time that legal action isn’t pending, or being considered. Undue attention or publication of this information to other families, or other priests, would be harmful and certainly unnecessary.” Simply put, the message was: stop talking to anyone – including priests – about what happened immediately.
When confronted with the allegations in February 1987, Gawronski himself provided the Diocese of Erie with a list of forty-one potential victims, many of whom he abused under the guise of “teaching them to check for cancer”:
According to the Diocese of Erie’s secret archive files on Gawronski, he admitted to “numerous instances of sexual abuse” in April 1987 as well. He was sent for inpatient evaluation and treatment in Chicago. Despite denying that he had a problem sexually abusing boys at the treatment center, even though he had sometimes abused more than one child in a single family, he was cleared to return to ministry and reassigned.
The Diocese of Erie received even more reports in 1988. Still, Gawronski remained in ministry at St. Patrick.
In 1995, Bishop Donald Trautman personally heard from a man who said that he was molested by Gawronski as a 15 year old boy in 1986. He assigned Gawronski to St. Ann in Erie that same year. Despite all of these complaints – and Gawronski’s own admissions of guilt – Gawronski remained in ministry until 2002. Then, all of the sudden in January 2002, the scandal in the Archdiocese of Boston became regular and national news. The Pennsylvania bishops got nervous. As with dozens of other priests across the state, Gawronski was suddenly removed from ministry in February 2002.
In response to questions about the Boston scandal, Bishop Trautman told reporters that no accused priests were in ministry and that he had never reassigned anyone who had been accused of sexual abuse during his time as bishop. Clearly, that was a lie.
In response to the statement, one of the 1987 victims wrote to Trautman and called him to account for the statement in light of Gawronski. Trautman shamed the man for challenging him and for sharing his story in the media, rather than with the Bishop privately.
In 2004, much like bishops across Pennsylvania that year, Bishop Trautman asked the Vatican to laicize Gawronski. In support of the laicization petition, Trautman included a list of 44 children that were known to the Diocese of Erie to have been abused by Gawronski.
Gawronski is still alive and believed to be residing in Sahuarita, Arizona. Many of his Facebook followers still refer to him as “Father Chet.”
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.