Fr. James W. Beeman – Diocese of Harrisburg

Fr. James W. Beeman- Diocese of Harrisburg

Fr. James Beeman   Father James Beeman

Ordained: 1953

Removed from ministry: 1991

Inpatient evaluation: 1991

Restricted to life of prayer: 2014

Died: 2016

Assigned as follows:

  • 1953-1958        St. Mary (Lancaster, PA)
  • 1958-1959        St. Patrick (Carlisle, PA)
  • 1959-1961        St. Joseph (Danville, PA)
  • 1961-1964        St. Columba (Bloomsburg, PA)
  • 1964-1968        Our Lady of Visitation (Shippensburg, PA)
  • 1968            St. Joseph (Milton, PA)
  • 1968            St. Ignatius (Centralia, PA)
  • 1968-1969        St. Francis of Assisi (Harrisburg, PA)
  • 1969-1973        Our Lady of Blessed Sacrament (Harrisburg, PA)
  • 1969-1973        St. Columba (Bloomsburg, PA)
  • 1975            “inner city ministry”
  • 1975            Sacred Heart (Williamstown, PA)
  • 1975-1977        “inner city ministry”
  • 1977-1983        Our Lady of Blessed Sacrament (Harrisburg, PA)
  • 1980            “inner city ministry”
  • 1980-1991        Chaplain, Harrisburg State Hospital
  • 1983-1991        Chaplain, State Correctional Institution (Camp Hill, PA)

Our investigation also revealed that he had ties to Lancaster Catholic High School and Bishop McDevitt High School during his tenure as an active priest as well.

Summary of Allegations against Fr. James Beeman:

According to an August 2018 press release from the Diocese of Harrisburg, Fr. James Beeman was known to be a serial child abuser at least as early 1988.  The Diocese itself reported him to local law enforcement for sexual abuse. Given that the clerical culture generally requires secrecy and cover-up, such a move would have been highly unusual and speaks to what must have been a particularly heinous situation.  However, no details about the allegations were offered by the Diocese of Harrisburg, so we are left to speculate about what may have happened.

Based upon our experience, we do see “red flags” in Beeman’s assignment history that suggest the Diocese of Harrisburg may have been aware of Beeman’s deviant behavior far earlier than 1988. For example, his two stints at unspecified “inner city ministry” are consistent with sudden and vague transfers to new locations following allegations of abuse, among populations who are not likely to raise the alarm in the event of abuse for various reasons.  Sadly, Catholic Church leaders often hid predators among those who struggled for reasons of race, education, or economics but for whom the faith is strong. It is not uncommon to see a predator assigned to a parish made up largely of undocumented Hispanic immigrants, for example. The thought is that they are not as likely to cause “trouble” in the case of abuse for fear of criminal repercussions or angering God himself due to the depth of their faith.

According to the 2018 grand jury report, in 1991, a mother approached the Diocese of Harrisburg to report that Fr. James Beeman abused her daughter from 1961 to 1964 while he was assigned to St. Columba in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania.  The mother recalled seeing blood in her daughter’s underwear when she was eight years old. The daughter later told Diocese of Harrisburg officials that she was sexually abused by Beeman on four occasions from 1961-1973:

The first incident occurred during Catechism class.  He set up a projector to watch a film and, while it was dark, he had the girl sit on his lap and fondled her;

At age seven, she had her tonsils removed.  Beeman came to visit her at the hospital when her parents were not around and he raped her;

At age 13, he came to her family home when her parents were not home and raped her again; and

At age 19, and while she was pregnant, Beeman raped her a third time.

When confronted by Diocese of Harrisburg officials about the woman’s allegations, Beeman admitted to them.  His priestly faculties were revoked and, consistent with the Diocese of Harrisburg’s modus operandi when priests admitted to abuse, he was sent for a psychological assessment to determine his fitness for ministry.  As part of his sexual history, Beeman disclosed that he abused another girls, starting when she was 6 years old (from 1953 to 1958) by fondling her genitals.  He admitted to fondling the genitals of another 6 year old girl on multiple occasions in 1968. He admitted to fondling a third 6 year old girl multiple times in 1972.

In 2002, the victim abused from 1953 to 1958 came forward to the Diocese of Harrisburg.  Beeman again admitted to her allegations and said that he a “deep love” for the six-year-old child, and that he felt he was probably “still in love with her.”  He even kept photos of her from that time period – he eventually gave the Bishop seven photos, some of which were even framed. He admitted to sexually abusing at least seven other young girls during his tenure in the Diocese of Harrisburg.

In 2014, upon a request from the Diocese of Harrisburg, the Vatican issued a papal precept restricting Beeman to a life of “penance and prayer” for his misdeeds.  The Grand Jury report does not offer an explanation as to why the Diocese of Harrisburg suddenly sought papal intervention almost 25 years after the 1991 allegations.  The same 2018 press release that discussed the Diocese’s 1988 report to police indicated that the new, incoming Bishop (Robert Gainer) sought to make the restrictions already in place more permanent and ongoing since he could not seek laicization of the priest (due to Beeman’s declining health).  Apparently the Vatican agreed due to the scandal that returning him to ministry might create.

In 2016, another woman reported her abuse by Beeman to the Diocese of Harrisburg.  As in other cases, she reported that she was forced to sit on his lap and that he touched her inappropriately.

Beeman died in October 2016 in Florida from complications of Parkinson’s Disease.  He donated his body to science.

Horowitz Law is a law firm representing victims and survivors of sexual abuse by Catholic priests and other clergy in the Diocese of Harrisburg.  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 Harrisburg now have legal options to recover damages due to a compensation fund created for victims.  Contact us at (954) 641-2100 or adam@adamhorowitzlaw.com today.