Aug. 20, 2018, 8:03 p.m.
Written by: Shelly Bradbury of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
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A former Greensburg priest was imprisoned this year on charges he sexually assaulted a mentally disabled man in Oregon in 2016, nearly four decades after church officials first became aware of allegations against him and 14 years after he was removed from the priesthood.
Roger A. Sinclair, 70, was sentenced in April to more than seven years in prison after he pleaded guilty to two felony counts of attempted sodomy and the sexual abuse of a 19-year-old man in Redmond, a small city about 145 miles southeast of Portland.
The conviction came 37 years after the Diocese of Greensburg first became aware of allegations that Sinclair molested teenage boys. Some child advocates say the church could have stopped Sinclair decades ago said the news that he had been charged last year infuriated them.
“There are so many unidentified, unregistered former priests who are sex offenders but aren’t known to the public — they’re only known to the church, who concealed their crimes,” said Timothy Hale, a California attorney who specializes in clergy sexual abuse cases.“This is the kind of crime that is so preventable if the church leaders had done the right thing and reported this man to law enforcement.” The Diocese of Greensburg says that it did report Sinclair to authorities in 2002, when it held a press conference announcing that eight unnamed priests had been referred to law enforcement. The statute of limitations had passed in the cases in which Sinclair was alleged to have been involved. No charges were filed against him.
Sinclair, who was ordained in 1974, was one of more than 300 clergy named in a statewide grand jury report released Aug. 14 that revealed widespread sexual abuse across the state’s Catholic dioceses and lambasted church leaders for systematically covering up the abuse.
On the day of the report’s release, the Diocese of Greensburg listed Sinclair’s name on its website along with 20 other clergy who faced credible abuse allegations. But that list appears to be the first time the diocese has publicly confirmed Sinclair’s status as a priest against whom allegations were made and who was referred to authorities.
Although Sinclair was removed from the priesthood in 2002, the diocese did not release his name at that time, according to news stories in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and The Tribune-Review.
And when he retired in 2005, Sinclair was given a standard retirement announcement in The Catholic Accent, the diocese’s internal newspaper, that made no mention of any allegations, according to a 2005 story in the Tribune Review.
Jerome Zufelt, spokesman for the Diocese of Greensburg, said Monday in an email that the diocese “clearly historically identified” Sinclair and made Sinclair’s name public when he was removed from ministry. But when pressed further, he responded that the diocese did not release Sinclair’s name in connection to the abuse allegations.
“The Diocese of Greensburg announced that Roger Sinclair had been placed on a leave of absence on page 1 of the April 11, 2002, issue of The Catholic Accent in an official announcement adjacent to the article about the press conference where the Diocese of Greensburg announced that it had forwarded information to the local district attorney about allegations of improper conduct with boys by eight priests,” Mr. Zufelt clarified in an email. “The diocese did not announce the names of the priests being removed, but nearly three weeks later, local press reports identified Roger Sinclair as the priest [who was removed for life].”
Mr. Zufelt said the diocese reported the allegations to law enforcement in 2002 and cooperated with the subsequent investigation. Such allegations would be reported immediately today, he said.
“We can’t speak for decisions made by those in the early 1980s, but it’s not how things would be done today,” he said.
In Pittsburgh, Bishop David Zubik said in a letter to parishioners over the weekend that the diocese is hiring “an experienced professional to actively monitor clergy who have been removed from ministry following allegations of child sexual abuse.”
The Pittsburgh diocese will also continue to publicize the names of priests who have substantiated complaints against them on their website.
The grand jury report shows Sinclair had a long history of abuse allegations during his years as a priest.
In May 1981, two mothers wrote letters to Bishop Norbert F. Gaughan at the Diocese of Greensburg in which they said the priest had molested their 14-year-old sons, according to the grand jury report, and the church became aware of other potential victims in 1983.
That year, Sinclair was placed on ‘sick leave’ and sent to a hospital in Missouri for treatment of “emotional problems,” according to the report. He was then allowed to return to active ministry and served as a military chaplain. While working at a veteran’s hospital, Sinclair twice tried to sneak teenage boys out of the hospital and was stopped by other staff. He was then dismissed from the facility, according to the grand jury report.
A third victim came forward in 2002, which prompted Sinclair’s removal from the priesthood.
Angela Liddle, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Family Support Alliance, said Monday that Sinclair was able to continue his abuse because of the church’s inaction and silence. “The church chose to be quiet and he went on to do horrific things to other people.”
Details about the abuse in Oregon were not immediately available Monday, but a detective who worked the case said Sinclair was not representing himself as a priest when the abuse occurred. The 70-year-old man faces 10 years of post-prison supervision after he serves his 7.5-year prison sentence, court records show.
Mr. Hale said he does not have a good estimate of how many priests were removed from ministry amid sexual abuse allegations without any public notice, but that he frequently runs across such people during his work as an attorney.
“It’s an incredibly sore subject for me because I’ve seen time and time again where these men commit these crimes and then the church throws up their hands and says, ‘Enough is enough,’ and kicks them to the curb, but the church is the only one who know the danger they pose,” he said.
Church officials must report allegations of sexual abuse to law enforcement, he said, and also should alert local congregations. Even if criminal charges are never levied, church officials can still let parishioners know that a report about a particular priest was made to law enforcement, Mr. Hale said.
“Even if they failed to do it before, they can do it now, correct the record and go parish to parish to say, ‘We’ve filed this report about Father So-and-So, and we are leaving it to the criminal justice system to determine the appropriate action,’” he said. “Certainly it’s better than nothing.”
Shelly Bradbury: 412-263-1999, email@example.com or follow @ShellyBradbury on Twitter.