Fr. Peter Dunne – Archdiocese of Philadelphia

Father Peter J. Dunne

Archdiocese of Philadelphia

Fr. Peter Dunne Horowitz Law  Fr. Peter Dunne Horowitz Law

Ordained: 1954

Inpatient treatment: 1986-1987, 1989, 1993

Leave of Absence: 1994-1995

Retired: 1995

Permanently restricted: 2005

Died: 2010

Assigned as follows:

  • 1954-1958 St. Ursula (Bethlehem, PA)
  • 1958-1958 St. Malachy (Philadelphia, PA)
  • 1958-1971 Cardinal Dougherty High School (Philadelphia, PA)
  • 1966-1971 Chaplain, Boy Scouts of America
  • 1968-1967 St. Bartholomew (Philadelphia, PA)
  • 1966-1974 Camp Neumann
  • 1971-1974 Archbishop Wood Girls High School
  • 1972-1974 Asst. Chaplain, Committee on Scouting
  • 1973-1983 St. Francis Vocational School
  • 1977-1983 Asst. Chaplain, Committee on Scouting
  • 1981-1983 Chaplain, Woodhaven East State School & Hospital
  • 1981-1983 Chaplain, Philadelphia State Hospital
  • 1982-1983 St. Elizabeth Ann Seton (Bensalem, PA)
  • 1983-1986 Sacred Heart (Oxford, PA)
  • 1986-1987 Leave of Absence
  • 1987-1990 Nativity  (Warminster, PA)
  • 1990-1994 Visitation B.V.M. (Norristown, PA)
  • 1994-1995 Leave of Absence

Summary of Sexual Abuse Allegations against Father Peter Dunne:

Father Peter Dunne worked as a priest in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia for four decades despite the fact that he was diagnosed as “an untreatable pedophile” multiple times, according to the 2005 grand jury report.  He ultimately retired as a priest in good standing in 1995, nine years after the first allegation against him was made. 

All of the following information was part of the 19-page case study prepared by the grand jury:

  • THE FIRST REPORT OF ABUSE BY DUNNE COMES IN 1986; HE ADMITS TO SOME SEXUAL MISCONDUCT WITH BOYS

In 1986, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia received information that Dunne sexually abused a young boy for several years in the late 1950s. The boy was 13 when the abuse began.  The report came by way of a letter from a parish priest in Oregon who was the pastor of the now-adult victim. The letter, addressed to the Philadelphia Chancellor, asked the Archdiocese to “look into the priest’s activities to ascertain that he is not hurting other young people.”  The Chancellor wrote back and asked the victim to prepare a written statement of his allegations.

According to the man’s statement, the abuse began after he told Dunne in the confessional that he thought he might be attracted to other boys.  Shortly thereafter, Dunne began to take the boy on camping trips and to a cabin that Dunne owned. The abuse continued until the boy was 17. By the time he was 18, the boy was an Eagle Scout molesting boys himself.  As an adult, he molested his own son and also lost his license to practice medicine for molesting boys who were his patients.

Because the man kept in contact with Dunne into his adulthood, he was able to provide the Archdiocese with the names of several other victims of Dunne, including one who was a student at the school for troubled boys that Dunne ran in the late 1970s.  He also told of “many more boys whom Fr. Dunne seemed to be grooming for sexual relations.”

In his statement, as well as a letter from his attorney, the man asked for Dunne to be removed from ministry so that he did not hurt any more children.  

Dunne was confronted with the allegations, but not the name of his accuser. He admitted that it could possibly be two former altar boys, and named them both. One of the boys he named was his accuser.  He also admitted to swimming nude with boys, as well as sharing a sleeping bag with boys (plural) while they were both naked. He also told the Archdiocese that, at the time of the “interview,” he had two young men – ages 20 and 21 – residing at the Sacred Heart rectory with him.  They were both his students at St. Francis Vocational School, the same school for troubled boys where the accuser said Dunne molested at least one boy. As it turns out, one of the men was the boy that the accuser had named. Dunne admitted that he shared a bed and engaged in some limited sexual activity with one of them, but denied any sexual intercourse or any contact when the man was a minor.  The Chancellor ordered the men to move out.

The response to the accusation came from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia attorney.  The Archdiocese planned to do nothing in response to the allegation. The victim’s attorney was told that he should advise his client not to pursue the allegation because to do so would “undoubtedly cause considerable discomfort in light of his activity since obtaining maturity.”  The thinly-veiled threat did not work; the accuser’s lawyer responded with his own threat of litigation.

  • A SECOND ALLEGATION IS MADE DURING THE INVESTIGATION – THIS TIME FROM A MAN LIVING AT THE SACRED HEART RECTORY THAT WAS ABUSED AS A TROUBLED TEEN BOY- AND DUNNE HAS HIS FIRST PSYCHOLOGICAL EVALUATION

The Archdiocese’s attorney interviewed the St. Francis Vocational School student who was living in the rectory eight months after the original complaint was made.  During that interview, the man reported that he had been having sexual contact with Dunne since he was 15 years old. The first incident occurred on a trip to Boys Town in Nebraska, where Dunne was taking him to live.  He abused the boy and then, ironically, told him to call the 1986 complainant, who was living in Iowa, if he needed anything.

Dunne resigned his pastorate in early December 1986 and underwent an inpatient evaluation at St. John Vianney, a notorious treatment facility for pedophile priests in Downingtown, Pennsylvania (and in the confines of the Archdiocese).  He offered to pay a settlement to the Oregon victim to save the Archdiocese the embarrassment of litigation. He ended up paying $40,000.00 to the man in exchange for a total release of all claims against himself and the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, as well as total confidentiality.  The man could never again tell anyone about his allegations.

Dunne stayed at SJV for nine months.  Not long after his arrival, he no longer denied that he often had sex with young boys once at SJV.  Instead, he said he had a ‘block’ of some sort that prevented him from remembering having sex with anyone.  Upon his discharge, his treaters told the Archdiocese of Philadelphia that he should not be returned to any type of ministry that would have him in contact with children or adolescents.  They recommended assignment to “a residence with someone who will assume responsibility for his whereabouts on a twenty-four hour per day basis.”  

Cardinal Krol ignored that advice and assigned Dunne to Nativity in Warminster without restriction.  The Archdiocese never told his new pastor about Dunne’s past, or that there were any restrictions on his ministry.      

In June 1988, four months after he assumed leadership of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua was given a thorough summary of Dunne’s history by the Chancellor, prompted by a request from Dunne to meet with Bevilacqua.  Bevilacqua responded to the Chancellor by thanking him for the “good report,” but took no action to limit Dunne’s ministry. He did not respond to Dunne’s request for a meeting.

By the time he received that memo, Dunne’s own therapist had given the Chancellor repeated warnings that Dunne was not complying with his aftercare program.  He was not attending his therapy sessions and he was, therefore, “unsuitable as a candidate for treatment.” The therapist called on the Chancellor to remove Dunne from ministry and put him in a supervised living facility that provided 24 hour supervision.  Nothing was done despite months of similar pleas from the therapist.

  • THE NEW CARDINAL THINKS HE KNOWS MORE THAN TREATMENT PROFESSIONALS AND ORDERS DUNNE’S THERAPIST TO DISCONTINUE HIS AFTERCARE; A SECOND EVALUATION IS PERFORMED AND IGNORED

Several months later, the Chancellor implored the Cardinal to meet with Dunne, who was now said to be bragging quite publicly about how he had “beaten the system.”  Bevilacqua, who fancied himself an expert on treating pedophile priests after all the ones he had protected as a bishop, took issue with the nature and extent of the aftercare recommendations, but told Dunne that he had to comply with them for the time being.  That would have been a better directive eight months earlier, when he arrived and was first told that Dunne was non-compliant, of course.

In November 1988, Cardinal Bevilacqua asked the aftercare supervisor (who was employed by the Church-affiliated St. John Vianney) if any “accommodations” or modifications could be made to Dunne’s aftercare to make it more convenient for the priest. The therapist agreed to the accommodations.  According to the grand jury, “these ‘accommodations’… in effect ended the aftercare program” for Dunne. Specifically, the individual therapy was discontinued as “ineffective,” and Dunne was released from attending group sessions. Dunne would be re-evaluated at Southdown Institute, another notorious pedophile priest treatment center, in Toronto a few months later. Until then, his living and working arrangements remained unchanged.  

According to the grand jury report, the Southdown evaluation yielded recommendations very similar to those made by St. John Vianney:  (1) Dunne should never be in contact with young people, (2) Dunne should continue individual and group therapy indefinitely, and (3) Dunne should find “a very strong spiritual director.”  The report also noted that Dunne clearly minimized his sexual contact with minors (and others) and that his “lifestyle shows evidence that the situations of inappropriate behavior could be beyond what we already know of Father’s conduct,” blatantly stating that Dunne’s misconduct was likely far more serious than anyone realized.    

For the second time, Bevilacqua ignored professional recommendations.  Dunne remained assigned to two parishes with unrestricted faculties for four more years.  

  • DUNNE’S THERAPIST DIAGNOSES HIM AS AN INCURABLE PEDOPHILE IN 1989 BUT DUNNE REMAINS IN MINISTRY

In the months that followed the Southdown evaluation and warnings, Dunne’s St. John Vianney began writing the Archdiocese of Philadelphia with new and repeated warnings about Dunne’s danger to children.  In February 1989, about a month after Dunne was discharged from Southdown, the SJV called the Archdiocese very concerned about Dunne’s ministry – and saying outright that Dunne was a pedophile. According to an internal Archdiocese memo:

Peter Dunne February 1989 memo

In May 1989, the doctor in charge of Dunne’s group therapy portion of the aftercare program wrote the the Chancellor to report that Dunne never reported for therapy as directed. He blatantly stated, “I believe that he is quite likely acting out sexually and needs to have firm limits set on his behavior.”  In August 1989, he wrote again to say that he still had not heard from Dunne, seven months after he was supposed to make contact.

That same month, the individual therapist wrote again, this time outlining all of the reasons he had diagnosed Dunne as an incurable pedophile who was highly likely to re-offend.  He once again recommended removing Dunne from ministry immediately, reminding the Archdiocese that it, as well as countless children, remained at risk.

In September 1989, the Archdiocese learned from the Nativity pastor that Dunne had taken a group of adolescent boys on a three-week long camping trip.  

The pleas from professionals continued well into 1990, and Bevilacqua continued to ignore them.

  • DUNNE IS TRANSFERRED TO THE PARISH RUN BY HIS CONFESSOR, WHO WILL NOT BE ABLE TO TELL BEVILACQUA ABOUT ANY SEXUAL MISCONDUCT BY DESIGN

After months of the Nativity pastor asking to have Dunne removed, Dunne himself requested a transfer in June 1990.  Bevilacqua ignored all advice one again and assigned Dunne to Visitation B.V.M. Not so coincidentally, the pastor was Dunne’s spiritual advisor and confessor.  Suddenly, Dunne’s pastor was also a man who would be extremely limited in what he could say about Dunne’s misconduct – the seal of the confessional would prevent disclosure to anyone, including Bevilacqua.  Perhaps by design, Bevilacqua could now legitimately claim ignorance of Dunne’s misdeeds.

By October 1990, Dunne stopped going to therapy, believing it was not necessary anymore.  

A year later, in November 1991, after there had been no after-care for more than a year, the Chancellor suggested having Dunne re-evaluated.  Nothing was done.

In May 1992, during a report on his activities, Dunne mentioned how much he enjoyed conducting the children’s liturgies and helping in the grammar school at Visitation.  In a meme to the Cardinal, the Chancellor reported that Dunne was doing well and should remain in his assignment at Visitation.

  • THE FAMILY OF THE 1986 COMPLAINANT DOES NOT GIVE UP AND THREATENS A PUBLIC SCANDAL

In 1992, the 1986 accuser’s mother wrote to the Archdiocese.  Her son, who was still married with five children, was destitute and needed help to enroll in an intensive inpatient treatment program in hopes of getting his medical license back.  She requested $30,000.00 from the Archdiocese to pay for the program. Bevilacqua responded by sending her a copy of the signed settlement release her son had signed and reminded her of his confidentiality requirement.  Eventually, the Archdiocese sent the man $10,000.00.

The man’s mother and wife continued to write to the Archdiocese in the months that followed, asking for more money and providing an accounting of more than $500,000.00 worth of debt that they said was directly attributable to his abuse, such as therapy and treatment costs, as well as the legal bills relating to the loss of his medical license and criminal investigation into his own molestation of his patients.  

In early 1993, the man himself wrote to the Archdiocese with additional revelations about Dunne.  Specifically, he told them that Dunne routinely abused boys that he brought to Boys Town in Nebraska.  At the time, the victim was residing in Iowa, not far way, and had an experience with at least one of the boys – as they drove along in his car, the man said, the boy “seduced” him.  “I asked him why he was doing this and he boyishly said, ‘father does this all the time; I bet he did it to you.’” So now, not only had Dunne, a diagnosed pedophile, abused troubled boys headed for Boys Town – he also farmed them out to another victim to be abused again.  When the accuser said he was contemplating going public with his abuse by Dunne to explain why he himself ended up hurting children, the Archdiocese suddenly found money to pay for his inpatient therapy and treatment after all.

  • DUNNE, WHO IS STILL IN ACTIVE MINISTRY, UNDERGOES A THIRD PSYCH EVAL AND IS AGAIN DIAGNOSED AS A DANGEROUS PEDOPHILE

Later in 1993, the man retained a new lawyer.  While his treatment was paid for, he still had hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt that needed to be paid.  His new lawyer told the new Secretary for Clergy, Msgr. William Lynn, that they planned to file a lawsuit. Upon reviewing the file, he saw the ignored 1991 recommendation that Dunne be re-evaluated.  That seemed like a good idea and Dunne was ordered to undergo a third evaluation at St. John Vianney in late 1993. According to the grand jury report, Lynn provided incomplete and wholly inaccurate information about Dunne’s history in the referral paperwork.  For example, Lynn told the facility that Dunne was totally supervised and had no contact with children. He knew from his review of the file that was a blatant lie.

In November 1993, after a four day evaluation, Dunne was again diagnosed as a pedophile who also had narcissistic personality disorder.  Once again, the professionals said he should not have contact with children or adolescents. They also stated outright that Dunne’s confessor should not be his immediate supervisor.  They also stated “emphatically” that Dunne’s request to retire to an unstructured living situation, such as a private residence, was a very, very bad idea.

Bevilacqua put Dunne on administrative leave, but left him with all of his faculties, while the priest pondered his retirement options and the Cardinal’s request that he seek laicization.  He was living in a private residence and had no supervision during this time period. Dunne could continue to act as a priest while he decided his future; he was just without assignment. Despite the SJV evaluation that Dunne not be allowed to live alone, Bevilacqua was now asking him to do that forever.     

In February 1994, Dunne’s spiritual confessor (and former pastor) told Lynn that Dunne was doing well.  He was still celebrating mass and assisting around the parish too.

  • DUNNE RETIRES VOLUNTARILY AS A PRIEST IN GOOD STANDING IN 1995

In May 1994, Dunne finally decided he did not want to be laicized (removed from the priesthood) and asked to retire.  In June 1994, Bevilacqua formed a committee to review the matter of Father Dunne and determine the Archdiocese’s options given Dunne’s refusal to leave the priesthood voluntarily.  His lawyer (who also interviewed the Boys Town victim years earlier) was insisting that Bevilacqua distance the Archdiocese from Dunne for liability reasons.

After considering the options, the group recommended to Bevilacqua that Dunne remain a priest but be stripped of all faculties so that there was no confusion about whether he was acting on behalf of the Archdiocese when he engaged in misconduct.   They reasoned that if Dunne could not act as a priest ever, he could not ever act badly as a priest. Never mind that this option did nothing to protect children. Bevilacqua agreed to the July 1994 recommendations.

However, Dunne still had full faculties and continued to act as an unrestricted priest well into 1995 due to an undefined “impediment.”  In fact, Dunne was the one who asked to retire from ministry in January 1995. For reasons that are not clear, Bevilacqua did not grant the request until more than eight months later.  Dunne officially retired as a priest in good standing in September 1995, nine years after the first victim contacted the Archdiocese.

On the other hand, in the summer of 1994, Lynn told the 1986 complainant, his wife, and his mother, that the would no longer take their phone calls or read their letters.  The Archdiocese had done more than enough for them, he told them. As the grand jury pointed out, they did not have the luxury of being able to retire from the effects of the man’s abuse.  

  • DUNNE’S MINISTRY IS FINALLY RESTRICTED IN 2004, NEARLY 20 YEARS AFTER THE FIRST ALLEGATION IS MADE

In 2004, Cardinal Justin Rigali threatened several priests with canonical trials to have them involuntarily laicized so that the Archdiocese would no longer be liable for them, including Dunne.  Like many others, in October 2004, Dunne accepted an agreement that he would remain a priest, but have no faculties and live a life of “supervised prayer and penance.” He lived out his remaining days in Villa St. Joseph with other accused priests who accepted the same deal.

Dunne died in 2010.

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 area 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.