Msgr. John Gillespie – Archdiocese of Philadelphia

Msgr. John Gillespie

Archdiocese of Philadelphia

Fr. John Gillespie Horowitz Law

Ordained: 1953

Inpatient evaluation: 2000

Suspended from ministry: 2002

Permanently restricted: 2005

Died: 2008

Assigned as follows:

  • 1953-1954 Holy Family (New Philadelphia, PA)
  • 1954-1962 Immaculate Conception (Levittown, PA)
  • 1962-1967 Norristown State Hospital
  • 1962-1967 St. Francis of Assisi (Norristown, PA)
  • 1967-1978 St. Charles Borromeo Seminary
  • 1978-1984 Our Lady of Lourdes (Philadelphia, PA)
  • 1984-2000 Our Lady of Calvary (Philadelphia, PA)
  • 2000-2002 Motherhouse, Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart

Summary of Sexual Abuse Allegations against Father John Gillespie:

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s management of the allegations against Father John Gillespie were examined in great detail by the 2005 grand jury.  According to the grand jury report, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia received the first indication that Gillespie molested children through a self-report to Mgsr. William Lynn, the former Secretary of Clergy.  

  • GILLESPIE’S 1994 “SELF-REPORT” TO MSGR. WILLIAM LYNN THAT IS “JUST HEARSAY”

In 1994, Gillespie met with Lynn to report that he received two troubling phone calls: the first came from the mother of two former altar boys at Immaculate Conception, where Gillespie was assigned from 1954 to 1962.  The mother said that her two sons reported that Gillespie molested them and she wanted answers. A few weeks later, one of the boys called Gillespie himself, and confronted the priest with graphic details of his allegations.  

The purpose of Gillespie’s meeting with Lynn was so that Gillespie could provide the Archdiocese of Philadelphia with two letters that Gillespie sent to the boys (who were grown men by then).  While he denied touching the boys in a sexual manner, he did admit to, and apologize for, touching them on their bellies and other places. He closed each letter by begging the boys to “give him the benefit of the doubt” and “allow him to finish out his remaining years as a pastor without scandal.”   Lynn ordered Gillespie never to write to them again.

When called before the grand jury, Cardinal Bevilacqua testified that he always found Gillespie’s language concerning, and even the priest’s denials seemed “odd.”  Yet, he took no action on the report, except to call his attorney. His handwritten notes say that he believed Gillespie and referred to “the priest’s alleged experience of ‘false accusations,’” inferring that there had been prior allegations (plural) made against Gillespie at some point. Gillespie remained in ministry.

  • IT IS NOT A PROBLEM THAT GILLESPIE IS ASKING 12 YEAR OLDS IF THEY LIKE TO HURT PEOPLE FOR SEXUAL PLEASURE BECAUSE IT IS IN THE CONFESSIONAL, ACCORDING TO THE ARCHDIOCESE OF PHILADELPHIA

In 1997, the mother of a boy at Our Lady of Calvary wrote to Cardinal Bevilacqua, threatening to tell police about a “situation…between one of your priests and my 12 year old son.”  She was concerned about graphic sexual questions that Gillespie asked the boy in the confessional, including whether he has ever hurt himself or anyone else for sexual pleasure. Lynn never spoke with the priest about the allegation; instead he called the mother into the Chancery and directed her, as a “good Catholic,” never to mention the incident to the priest because it was a breach of the seal of the confessional.  He told her that her son, not Gillespie, was therefore the sinner, and that they would never ask Gillespie about the matter since he respected the seal. Cardinal Bevilacqua agreed with Lynn’s handling of the matter.

  • A POLICE OFFICER MAKES A REPORT AND GILLESPIE IS IMMEDIATELY SENT FOR A PSYCHOLOGICAL EXAM; GILLESPIE IS DIAGNOSED AS “DANGEROUS”

In 2000, a 29 year old policeman reported to the Archdiocese that he was an altar boy at Our Lady of Calvary who often served with Gillespie.  Gillespie molested him for all four years of high school. He told Lynn that had been in therapy and now wanted to make sure that no other children could be hurt by Gillespie.   When confronted a few days later, Gillespie again offered a qualified admission: he admitted to rubbing the boy’s stomach, reaching into his pants, and touching his pubic area, but never his penis.  When reminded of the first set of allegations, Gillespie again denied ever touching anyone’s penis.

In February 2000, Gillespie was sent to St. John Vianney, a notorious treatment facility for pedophile priests in Downingtown, Pennsylvania, for an evaluation.  Notably, according to documents reviewed by the grand jury, the reason he was sent for an evaluation this time, and not with the first set of allegations, was because the allegation came directly to the Chancery from a victim, rather than through another person.  The allegations self-reported by Gillespie earlier were mere “hearsay” that required no action, apparently.

Treatment professionals concluded that Gillespie had committed sexual abuse of one or more children, had a sexual disorder as well as a personality disorder, and had no awareness of the impact his behavior has on others.  Therefore, they concluded that this “makes Monsignor dangerous to others.” They also warned the Archdiocese of Philadelphia – which owned St. John Vianney – that a return to ministry was dangerous not just for kids, but because of Gillespie’s “strong desire to make amends” that “could bring forth both difficulty for himself and legal jeopardy.”  

  • GILLESPIE CONTINUES IN MINISTRY UNTIL HE CAN BE GIVEN AN HONORARY PROMOTION AND SENT TO THE SCHOOL RUN BY LOCAL NUNS

Based upon the recommendation of the therapists, Cardinal Bevilacqua asked Gillespie to resign from Our Lady of Calvary voluntarily.  He agreed, but was permitted to remain as the unsupervised pastor for three more months until a new one could be named. As a reward, he was honored with the title of Pastor Emeritus and remained in ministry, albeit less active than before.  Gillespie then moved to the Motherhouse of the Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart in Yardley. He regularly heard the confessions of the children attending the private school on the convent grounds.

In November 2001, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia received yet another report of abuse by Gillespie.  This time, a man said that Gillespie abused him at the age of 15 at Mother of the Divine Providence in King of Prussia. The report was made to Lynn by another priest, whose parishioner was concerned that Gillespie was interacting with children at the convent school.  Lynn took no action to investigate the allegations but did tell Gillespie that, “in order to preserve his reputation and the reputation of the Church,” he should strongly consider retiring.

  • GILLESPIE IS FINALLY REMOVED AFTER THE SCANDAL ERUPTS IN THE ARCHDIOCESE OF BOSTON

In February 2002, Gillespie remained in active ministry, having never retired.  At that time, the depth of the scandal in the Archdiocese of Boston was becoming national news.  Gillespie, along with several other priests, was suddenly suspended from public ministry by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia in early 2002.  

Gillespie, who moved to Villa St. Joseph retirement home, lived a generally unsupervised life after his removal.  In late 2004 – more than two years after his suspension – the Chancery learned that he had continued to hear the confessions of parishioners even though he was not supposed to.  Cardinal Bevilacqua testified before the grand jury that he did not know what supervision, if any, Gillespie and other accused priests had at Villa St. Joseph.

In February 2005, Gillespie agreed to a total restriction of his faculties and a life of “supervised prayer and penance” at Villa St. Joseph in lieu of a canonical process to remove him from the priesthood (laicization).  Again, the level of said supervision is unknown.

It is not known how many more people have come forward to report abuse by Gillespie since the grand jury report was published in 2005 because the Archdiocese of Philadelphia does not provide that information to the public.

Gillespie died in 2008.  

Horowitz Law is a law firm representing victims and survivors of sexual abuse by Catholic priests and other clergy in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.  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 Philadelphia 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.