Fr. William F. Presley – Diocese of Erie

| Jan 10, 2019 | Abuser Profiles, Catholic Church

Father William Presley

Diocese of Erie/Baltimore/Raleigh

Ordained: November 1935

Retired: July 2000

Laicization: 2006

Died: 2012

Assignment History:

  • 1956-1965: Cosmas and Damian (Punxsutawney, PA)
  • 1965-1970: Elk County Christian High School (St. Marys, PA)
  • 1971: Immaculate Conception (Brookville, PA)
  • 1971-1972: Our Lady Queen of the Americas (Conneaut Lake, PA)
  • 1970-1976: University of Notre Dame
  • 1976-1977: Joseph University (Philadelphia, PA)
  • 1977-1978: University of Maryland (Baltimore, MD)
  • 1978-1981: St. Therese Church (Shinglehouse, PA)
  • 1971-1981: Sacred Heart Mission (Genesee, PA)
  • 1981-1983: Parish Ministry (Raleigh, NC)
  • 1983-1988: Agnes (Morrisdale, PA)
  • 1990-2000: Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Sykesville, PA)


Summary of Sexual Abuse Allegations Against Father William Presley:

According to media reports, in 2018, Fr. William Presley was included in 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. In April 2023, Maryland’s Attorney General released a report alleging 156 Catholic clergy members sexually abused at least 600 children over six decades. The report lists the names of the abusers, including Father William Presley. According to the report, the Diocese of Erie was first apprised of Father William Presley’s sexual abuses as early as November 1987 during his assignment at St. Agnes. These sexual abuses, as reported to the Diocese, involved two victims over the span of sixteen years. One of the victims had been abused as recently as 1986; the second victim was abused prior to 1971 when he was a high school student in another parish.

Between February and May 1988, various meetings or discussions were held between Presley and Diocesan officials. The Diocese noted that Presley did not directly deny the allegations.

According to the grand jury report, there was a consensus amongst Diocese of Erie chancery officials that Presley was extremely violent and predisposed to assaultive behavior.

In 1988, Bobal wrote a letter to Murphy containing his recollection of a meeting with William Presley. He confirmed that Presley had given the teenage female victim a job and had obtained other items for her, including clothing and money. He also noted the possibility that Presley would become violent. The meeting concluded with a request that Presley undergo a psychological evaluation. Presley ultimately refused the evaluation but agreed to see another doctor at the recommendation of the Diocese.

Following an evaluation in April 1990, Murphy placed Presley in a temporary assignment, which was made permanent in June 1990. Shortly thereafter, Trautman allowed Presley to remain in his position as Pastor and Administrator at the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church in Sykesville, Jefferson County. In April 1996, Trautman appointed Presley to a new 6-year term as Administrator of this Church, where Father Presley remained until his retirement in 2000.

Reports of Violent Sexual Abuse from Father Presley

In April 2002, three separate victims notified Trautman of sexual abuse perpetrated upon them by William Presley from 1963 to 1974. One of the victims was as young as 13 years old when it occurred.

The abuse of these individuals consisted of “choking, slapping, punching, rape, sodomy, fellatio, anal intercourse,” and other acts according to Diocesan records reviewed by the Grand Jury.

In 2002, Trautman contacted Presley by telephone and recorded that Presley admitted the sexual abuse of the victims. Trautman revoked Presley’s priestly faculties later that year.

In April 2003, and in response to media inquiries about Presley, the Diocese of Erie issued a press release stating, among other things, that Presley’s priestly faculties were removed in July 2002, shortly after the allegations prompted the Diocese to conduct an internal investigation. The Diocese stated that Trautman’s understanding of the alleged incidents was that the crimes had occurred 28 years ago during the time of the late Bishop Watson.

The diocese explained that the individual making the allegation was twenty years old at the time and enrolled at a college in another state where the incidents were reported to have occurred. The diocese told the public that it had “no information to provide on other possible allegations against the priest.”

The press release from the Diocese of Erie was false and misleading.  Trautman had personal knowledge of at least three victims, one as young as 13, who reported their abuse to him in 2002. Only one victim was an out-of-state college student. Moreover, the Diocese was aware of sexual abuse complaints against Presley as early as 1987 but permitted him to stay in active ministry for another 13 years.  Of course, this is to say nothing of the other allegations known to Trautman about other priests at the time he made the statement.

Additionally, Diocesan records showed that Presley was so violent that priests who interacted with him were concerned for their safety.

Later that year, Trautman communicated with the Vatican and outlined additional details with respect to sexual abuse committed by Presley. Trautman reported that the information “…confirms my suspicion that there are even more victims of the sexual abuse and exploitation perpetrated by Presley.”

More Allegations Recorded Against Presley

By 2005, the Diocese was actively engaged in an attempt to formally remove William Presley from the priesthood. In the course of that effort, personnel for the Diocese interviewed other witnesses or associates of Presley and identified numerous additional victims or potential victims.

Monsignor Mark Bartchak led the investigation. Several of these individuals stated that they informed the Diocese of their concerns in the 1980s, including a report to a parish council member, who stated that Presley would not allow anyone else inside the rectory when certain children were present and that some of these children spent the night with him on multiple occasions.

Bartchak also re-interviewed the male victim who had previously disclosed his abuse to the Diocese in 1982, 1987, and 2002. He explained that Presley invited him to his rectory after befriending him. Presley then tried to hypnotize him before assaulting him. Presley brought other children on some of these trips, including one occasion when he tried to abuse both the victim and another high school student at the same time.

Presley taught the victim how to have sexual intercourse by bringing in a female high school student and using index cards to show them where to touch each other. On more than one occasion, Presley gave him some type of sedative to relax him prior to abusing him. Presley stated that it was okay “because he was a priest” and used his position as a spiritual guide to further the abuse.

On August 25, 2005, Bartchak sent a confidential memo to Trautman that detailed the results of his interviews to date. Bartchak stated the following: “I was not surprised to learn from other witnesses from the Elk County area that there are likely to be other victims” and that “… several more witnesses who could attest to the brutality that they were subjected to by Father Presley.”

Bartchak asked, “It is likely that there may be others who were also of the age for the offenses to be considered delicts, but to what end is it necessary to follow every lead?”

He sought Trautman’s opinion, asking, “Is it worth the further harm and scandal that might occur if this is all brought up again? I am asking you how you want me to proceed. With due regard for the potential for more harm to individuals and for more scandal, should I continue to follow up on potential leads?”

Four days later, Bartchak documented a meeting earlier that day with Trautman, in which he stated Bishop Trautman decided that in order to preclude further scandal, these additional witnesses should not be contacted, especially given the fact that is not likely that they will lead to information concerning delicts involving minors under 16 years of age.

On July 13, 2006, Trautman wrote to the Lancaster County District Attorney. His letter stated that Presley was now defrocked and that the Diocese had received “credible allegations regarding sexual misconduct with a minor which allegedly occurred many years ago.” Trautman falsely wrote, “We were unaware of these allegations until they came to light only a few years ago. As a result, no criminal charges were ever brought forward because the statute of limitations had expired.”

More Allegations Reported Against Presley

In 2020, a former student and victim of Fr. William Presley shared his story. The survivor stated that Presley raped him three times during his sophomore year at Notre Dame in 1977. Fr. Presley came to Notre Dame from the Diocese of Erie, Pennsylvania, in August of 1970, according to the grand jury report, which lists him as a “graduate and student counselor” at the time. According to The Observer archives, he was named rector of St. Edward’s Hall in September 1971. University records also indicate he was a member of the hall staff in Keenan Hall. The victim reported the abuse to Notre Dame in 2002, in which they offered him an apology in a public statement. The University’s apology did little to assuage the pain the victim has felt for nearly half a century. For almost 30 years, he had refused to report Presley’s behavior to Notre Dame — largely because of a mix of fear and shame.

Presley was defrocked in 2006. He died in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, in 2012.

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.