Why Do So Many Pennsylvania Predator Priests End Up in Florida?

by | Jul 18, 2023 | Catholic Church, Firm News

Predator Priests Florida Horowitz Law

Statistics show that many Pennsylvania predators end up in Florida. Why? According to law enforcement records, at least 22 predator priests from Pennsylvania went to or were sent to Florida. We will probably never know the exact reason why this is so, but we have a few theories. Catholic officials rarely explain (or explain honestly) these transfers. They are almost never disclosed on church ‘credibly accused’ lists, which either provide no assignment histories or include only those assignments in that one diocese).

We at Horowitz Law can’t help but wonder if bishops have some very quiet ‘gentleman’s agreement’ not to reveal when one of their child molesting clerics was sent to another state or diocese. Again, who knows the full truth?
Thank heavens for the prosecutors and attorneys general who have used their subpoena and investigative powers to unearth and publicize these priests, their crimes, their transfers, and the cover-ups instigated by their supervisors.

Here is a list of 22 Pennsylvania offenders who ended up or spent time in Florida:

Fr. Michael J. Amy of Erie: In a 2018 Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report, he was included and admitted to diocesan officials that he molested several boys. (They intervened on his behalf with the police.) At some point, Fr. Amy was defrocked and began living in Florida. He also worked in Pittsburgh and Baltimore and was added to a church ‘credibly accused’ list in 2018.

Msgr. Thomas J. Benestad of Allentown: He was first named publicly as accused in a 2018 Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report. That same year, he was living in Boca Raton in the Diocese of Palm Beach and was added to a church ‘credibly accused’ list.

Fr. Ernest A. Durante of Philadelphia: He was named in a grand jury report as having watched Fr. John Schmeer sexually abuse boys. In 2006, Fr. Durante was working as a guidance counselor at a Catholic school in Florida.

Fr. Mark G. Balczeniuk of Scranton: He was first named publicly as an abuser in the 2018 PA Grand Jury Report. (Spelled Balczeniuk.) In 2010, Fr. Balczeniuk admitted that, when he was a seminarian, he touched the genitals of young boys at Camp St. Andrew, where he was a counselor. In 2018, he died in Florida, where he had worked as a bereavement counselor for a Daytona Beach hospice.

Fr. Donald Bolton of Erie: In 1986, he was charged with one count each of indecent assault and corruption of minors, pleaded guilty, and received three years’ probation. He also worked in Brazil and in other US dioceses, including four in New York (Buffalo, Rochester, Brooklyn, and Albany), Richmond, VA, and Orlando.

Fr. Robert J. Brauge of Scranton: He was named in the 2018 PA Grand Jury Report and put on a church ‘credibly accused’ list that same year. Fr. Brauge went to the Venice, FL, diocese and continued as a priest until his death in 1997.

Fr. Joseph H. Driscoll of Harrisburg: His name was included on a church ‘credibly accused’ list in 2018. Now deceased, he worked in Washington, DC, MA, SC, GA, NY, and Florida. He passed away in New Smyrna Beach.

Fr. Francis J. Fromholzer of Allentown: The 2018 PA Grand Jury Report noted that one of his victims ‘told her school principal about abuse by Fr. Fromholzer and was then expelled,” while “another alleged victim said she told several priests in the 1980s who didn’t want to hear it and did nothing.” Another victim learned through the same report that after she came forward in 2002 to law enforcement, the diocese investigated her. According to BishopAccountability, he was last known to be living in Florida.

Fr. Gregory P. Furjanic of Erie was sent to two church-run ‘treatment centers’ (Erie Ecclesia Center and St. Luke’s). In 2005 in St. Petersburg, Florida, he was working or attempting to work at Lutheran Social Services. Fr. Furjanic is on two church ‘credibly accused’ lists (Mobile and Erie).

Fr. Stanley Gana of Philadelphia: According to a grand jury report in 2011, he left treatment, went to Orlando, and began living with a group of older teens and young men. That same report concluded that he “sexually abused countless boys.”

Fr. Charles A. Sheets, Jr. of Erie: In 2018, his name was included on the Erie diocese’s ‘credibly accused’ list. He died in Sumterville, Florida.

Fr. Roger J. Trott of Greensburg: He was criminally charged for abusing as many as 12 young boys and pleaded guilty to abusing one. Around 2004, he was defrocked, and he died in 2017 in Florida.

Fr. George Zirwas of Pittsburgh: He was first publicly named as accused in the 2018 PA Grand Jury Report, which found him to have been involved, along with Fr. Francis Pucci, Fr. Robert Wolk, and Fr. Richard Zula, in making child porn, sharing victims, and using sadism while raping them,” according to BishopAccountability.org. At some point, Fr. Zirwas was sent to Florida.

Fr. Robert G. Wolk of Pittsburgh: He reportedly sexually abused two brothers over six years and may have abused one of the boys in Florida. In 2018, his name was included on a church ‘credibly accused’ list.

Fr. Timothy Sperber of Harrisburg: In 1992, he was transferred to the Archdiocese of Miami, and as of 2018, he was living in Port Charlotte and was a music minister at a Congregational United Church of Christ there. That same year, his name was included on a church ‘credibly accused’ list.

Fr. Robert E. Spangenberg of Pittsburgh: He also worked in MI, NC, IL, and Florida, where his religious order, the Spiritans, sent him after he’d been reported for abuse several times. Despite the allegations, which began in 1989, Fr. Spangenberg was kept in ministry until 2009. He is on church ‘credibly accused’ lists in Chicago and in two North Carolina dioceses (Raleigh and Charlotte).

Fr. Roger A. Sinclair of Greensburg: He was sent to two church-run treatment centers’ (House of Affirmation in Missouri and the Anodos Center). In 2017, Fr. Sinclair was arrested, convicted, and imprisoned for abuse in Oregon. He also worked as a military chaplain in CA, KS, MA, VA, and Florida, according to a 2018 PA Grand Jury Report.

Fr. Richard Scherer of Pittsburgh was first named as accused in the 2018 PA Grand Jury Report. He worked as a hospital chaplain in Ft. Lauderdale and Miami. He died in 2007.

Fr. Thomas A. Scala of Harrisburg: He is listed on at least one church website as ‘credibly accused’ of abuse and died in 2018 in Florida. 

Br. Christian Neetz of Altoona-Johnstown: He was a member of the T.O.R. Franciscans, worked in VA, MD, DC, and OH, and died in 2012 in Florida.

Fr. Thomas O’Donnell of Pittsburgh: As of 2018, he was living in the Fort Myers area. He was first named publicly as accused in the 2018 PA Grand Jury Report. In a 2019 lawsuit, Fr. O’Donnell was accused of taking a 13-year-old boy to the Super Bowl in Miami, where he sexually abused the boy repeatedly.

Br. Ralph Mravintz of Pittsburgh: A Marianist brother, he also worked in OH, NY, TN, and Florida. He faced charges of indecent assault and corrupting a minor but pled no contest to disorderly conduct because his victim did not want to testify. In 2020, he was added to a church ‘credibly accused’ list.

Horowitz Law is a law firm representing victims and survivors of sexual abuse by religious authority figures and other clergy.  If you need a lawyer because you were sexually abused by a member of a religious organization, contact us today at 888-283-9922 or [email protected] to discuss your options today. Our lawyers have decades of experience representing survivors of clergy sexual abuse nationwide. We can help.