Fr. Thomas E. Smith – Diocese of Erie

| Jan 14, 2019 | Abuser Profiles, Catholic Church

Father Thomas Smith

Diocese of Erie

Ordained: 1967

Health Leave: 1984, 1986-1987

Retired: 2002

Removed from ministry: 2006

Assigned as follows:

  • 06/16/1967- 08/15/1967: Our Lady of Peace, Erie
  • 09/15/1967- 06/03/1970: Sacred Heart, Erie
  • 06/03/1970- 02/12/1971: St. Patrick, Franklin
  • 02/12/1971- 07/16/1972: Notre Dame, Hermitage
  • 07/16/1972- 06/23/1978: St John the Baptist, Erie
  • 06/23/1978- 06/01/1981: St. Cosmas and St. Damian, Punxsutawney
  • 06/01/1981- 10/23/1984: St. Mary of the Assumption, Frenchville
  • 02/01/1984- 10/01/1984: Health Leave
  • 03/08/1984- 03/08/1989: Presbyterian Council, Erie
  • 10/23/1984`- 02/05/1985: St. Joseph, DuBois
  • 02/05/1985- 03/12/1985: St. Hippolyte, Guys Mills
  • 08/08/1985- 09/16/1985: St. Joseph, Mt. Jewett
  • 09/16/1985- 12/12/1986: St. Teresa, Union City
  • 12/12/1986- 04/22/1987; Health Leave, Girard, Ecclesia Center
  • 04/22/1987- 11/30/1987: Health Leave, Suitland, Maryland, St. Luke’s Institute
  • 12/01/1987- 09/01/1992: St. Joseph, Warren
  • 09/01/1992- 05/01/1994: Holy Rosary, Erie
  • 05/01/1994: Pleasant Ridge Manor, East Mercy Motherhouse
  • 05/01/1994: Sisters of Mercy Motherhouse, Erie
  • 05/01/1994: St. Patrick’s, Erie, St. Hedwig Cluster

Summary of Sexual Abuse Allegations against Father Thomas Smith:

According to media reports, in 2018, Father Thomas Smith’s name was included on the Diocese of Erie list of clergy credibly accused of child sexual abuse. He was also named publicly as accused in the 2018 PA Grand Jury report. According to the report, Bishop Michael Murphy was first told of child sexual abuse perpetrated by Smith against a 17-year-old boy in January 1984 while at Saint Mary’s. Smith resigned his position in the parish on January 20, 1984.  From February 1984 to October 1984, Smith was placed on “health leave.”  According to his records, he was in residential psychological therapy.

In October 1984, Smith was discharged from his treatment program and reassigned by Bishop Murphy to Saint Joseph’s in DuBois, Pennsylvania until February 1985.

In February 1985, Smith was transferred to Saint Hippolyte in Guys Mills, Pennsylvania for approximately one month.

For reasons that are not entirely clear, but may well have related to allegations of sexual abuse, Smith was again sent to residential psychological therapy from March until October 1985. Official Diocesan records obtained by the Grand Jury show this was designated as a leave of absence.

Upon his release, Smith was sent to Saint Joseph’s in Mount Jewett in August 1985.

Father Smith Continues Abusing Children Even After Two Attempts at Treatment

After about one month at Saint Joseph’s, Thomas Smith was transferred to Saint Teresa in Union City,
Pennsylvania where he remained for approximately 10 months. In spite of Smith’s history of child abuse and his need for continued treatment, Murphy continued to permit Smith to minister without restriction- including with children. While at St. Teresa’s, Smith sent a letter to Bishop Murphy describing his accomplishments in the parish and his gift for “working with young people.”

In December 1986, Smith was placed on a leave of absence yet again. This leave of absence continued for almost a year while Smith was returned to residential psychological therapy for a third time.

In January 1987, Diocesan records indicated that the treatment facility informed Murphy that Smith suffered from a “driven, compulsive, and long-standing” obsession with sexually assaulting children. The facility warned that since his first treatment in 1984, Smith had not stopped sexually assaulting children and that interdiction was needed.

These secret Diocesan records obtained by the Grand Jury showed that, while in treatment, Smith admitted to sexually molesting at least fifteen children. Smith stated that all of his victims were boys, some as young as seven.

This information was provided to Bishop Murphy in November 1987. That same month, Smith was discharged from the facility and assigned to St. Joseph in Warren.

Approximately four months later, in March 1988, Father Glenn Whitman wrote a letter to Smith and advised him of recent conduct that placed him in violation of his aftercare agreement with St. Luke’s Institute, a notorious treatment facility for pedophile priests. Regardless, Smith continued in ministry at Saint Joseph’s with the approval of Bishop Murphy, and, beginning in 1990, Bishop Donald Trautman.

In July 1990, Whitman wrote a memo to Bishop Trautman and noted two known parishes affected by Smith’s abuse. He also wrote that “The number of victims is not clearly known.” The same day, Trautman wrote his own memo regarding Smith. In this document, Trautman wrote that he had met with Smith about his problems and that Smith was a person of “candor and sincerity.”

Trautman Continues to Support Father Smith

Bishop Trautman noted that after another year and a half he would consider a new assignment
for Thomas Smith because he wanted Smith to complete his aftercare and was fearful of future litigation.

In July 1992, Smith was transferred to the Holy Rosary Parish in Erie, Pennsylvania by Trautman. Smith was very active in the “Isaiah 43” ministry program, a program for Catholic children.

A little over a year after Smith was transferred to Holy Rosary, Trautman received a letter from the parents in the parish.  Smith was sexually abusing their son. They described the abuse suffered by their son when he was only nine years old.

Trautman wrote to St. Luke’s Institute, one of Smith’s treatment providers, and requested information as to the future ministry of Smith. Among other things, Trautman noted that he was “worried about appearances” and that “Father Smith does participate in the Isaiah 43 Program which takes him outside of the Diocese. I have no supervision of his activity away from the Diocese; it is an act of trust in him.”  Trautman explained his sudden interest in Smith’s activities, stating, “The mother of this individual has raised concerns about Father Smith’s involvement in Isaiah 43 since there is youth present for this type of retreat.”

When St. Luke’s Institute responded, Trautman was informed that Smith had failed to report his involvement with the Isaiah 43 program as part of his continued aftercare. Trautman sent a letter to Smith and informed him that his duties at Holy Rosary would be altered. However, Trautman permitted Smith to remain in the Isaiah 43 program until he completed his duties there in March 1994.

Parishioners Were Never Notified of Father Smith’s Abuse

In a January 1994 church bulletin at Holy Rosary, the parish announced the assignment of Father Thomas Smith to several chaplaincy positions in the Erie area beginning at the end of March 1994, but noted that Smith would remain in residence at Holy Rosary with the title of Resident and Weekend Assistant. This assignment permitted Smith to roam freely about the Diocese, serving as a chaplain with all the authority and power of the priesthood.

Moreover, he continued to work and reside at Holy Rosary. The bulletin announcement failed to inform parents that Smith had been in treatment since 1984 due to sexually abusing children, nor did it note that Smith admitted to such conduct with as many as fifteen boys in 1987.

Soon, Smith expressed that he was unhappy with his new assignments as chaplain, and sought a reprieve from retired Bishop Murphy.  Murphy reached out to Bishop Trautman on behalf of Smith (and another priest) seeking greater leniency. Trautman responded and explained that he had not been overly restrictive but that the Diocese of Erie could not adopt a “posture” of appearing “lenient” with accused priests, even if it clearly was.

Father Smith Continues Working with Children Even as a Retired Priest

Ultimately, Thomas Smith remained in active ministry until his voluntary retirement in March 2002. In April 1996, Smith wrote to Trautman and asked to be appointed to the board of the local YMCA, as well as to be returned to the Isaiah 43 program.

Trautman was aware that Smith continued to seek contact with children and elected not to warn anyone.

Due to the national coverage of the scandal in the Archdiocese of Boston that began in January 2002, Trautman was soon forced to field letters from concerned parishioners and answer inquiries from the local press.  In January 2002, Trautman wrote to parents of one of Smith’s victims and stated, “I believe appropriate action has been taken in the fact that there is no parish assignment and there is a definite curtailing of his ministry.”

On March 15, 2002, Trautman lied when giving an interview to a news reporter by stating, “we have no priest or deacon or layperson that I know of that has, in any way, a pedophile background.” Smith retired that same month and was still a Roman Catholic priest in good standing with active faculties.

By April 2002, some victims had begun litigation in connection with their past abuse.

Under public pressure, Trautman submitted a formal request to the Vatican on November 10, 2004, and requested the laicization of Smith.

Contrary to nearly every one of Trautman’s previous statements regarding Smith, Trautman disclosed his knowledge of Smith’s to the Vatican in a confidential summary offered in support of the request for laicization. Trautman admitted that the Diocese of Erie had been aware of Smith’s abuses since at least 1987. Trautman disclosed that Smith abused boys between 7 and 12 years of age.

He described Smith’s acts as chilling and noted that Smith used physical force to bring about the offenses and threats to secure the secrecy of his crimes. Trautman wrote that Smith invoked the name of God to justify his actions against his victims while using their faith and the priesthood to manipulate them and secure their silence.

Trautman noted that, even after Smith was told to avoid any and all occasions that would place him in the company of minors, he continued to do so in a public manner. For example, he was photographed assisting high school students in the collection of food for the poor and the photograph was published in the local newspaper. Trautman summarized Smith’s worldview and stated that he saw his victims as objects rather than people.

The Vatican laicized Smith in 2006. Smith’s former flock was never told the reason for his removal. On August 3, 2006, Trautman directed the pastor of St. Hippolyte to make the following notation in the record of the parish with respect to Smith: “Dismissed from the clerical state on June 10, 2006, by Pope Benedict XVI. Nothing else need be noted.”

Thomas Smith is still living and resides 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.

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