Fr. Walter Emala – Diocese of Harrisburg

Fr. Walter Emala – Diocese of Harrisburg

Ordained:     1952  (Diocese of Memphis)

Assigned in Diocese of Harrisburg: 1981-1985

Died:        2008

Assigned in Diocese of Harrisburg as follows:

  • 1981-1985        St. Peter (Mt. Carmel, PA)
  • 1981-1985        St. John (New Freedom, PA)

Summary of Allegations against Fr. Walter Emala:

According to the grand jury report, Emala was a priest of the Diocese of Memphis who came to work in the Diocese of Harrisburg after being accused of abuse in Tennessee.

In May 1979, before Emala began working in Harrisburg, the Diocese of Memphis described the allegations to the Diocese of Harrisburg by saying that Emala, “was once accused of sexually handling some of the children where he was an associate, but this not seem to have been proven definitely.”  The Diocese of Harrisburg responded by saying, “in light of the information which you provide, this diocese certainly would not refrain from the granting of faculties to Emala for occasional, weekend help.”

In late 1985, Chancellor William Keeler of the Diocese of Harrisburg wrote to the Diocese of Memphis that Emala was being “accused of being overly and overtly familiar with certain boys,” using recognized code words to describe suspicions of abuse.  The letter further described multiple reports made by parents of the parish to the pastor, including that Emala gave the boys wine. One of the parents was a law enforcement officer, which no doubt created a great likelihood of scandal in the Diocese, so Emala’s faculties were revoked and he was sent back to Memphis for reassignment by his Bishop there.

In 1986, the parish pastor wrote to Keeler that the parents of three teen boys in the parish “about what they termed undue familiarity between Father Emala and their boys.”  A report had been made to the Department of Children and Youth Services relating to the late 1985 incidents, and the parents were upset that the boys had been interviewed about Emala by the State.

Notably, about a month later, Keeler wrote to the Diocese of Memphis, seemingly upset that Emala had been working in the Diocese of Harrisburg and stating that, “unbeknown to the Chancery [in Harrisburg],” Emala was working without faculties in a Harrisburg parish.  Perhaps this was a poor effort to create a limit on the Diocese of Harrisburg’s legal liability, but regardless of the reason, the grand jury correctly pointed out that it directly contradicted the 1979 letter from Harrisburg to Memphis and was completely disingenuous.

In 2002, a woman reported to the Diocese of Harrisburg that she heard another woman from the Mount Carmel parish say that she saw Emala kiss an altar boy on the lips in 1985.  The woman who witnessed the kissed came forward in 2003 to confirm to the Diocese of Harrisburg what she had seen. The Diocese of Harrisburg interviewed priests assigned to the parish at the time; one reported that he had seen “a shoe-box full of photographs of adolescent males, all undressed from the waist up” in Emala’s room when he once entered unannounced.

In 2004, the Diocese of Harrisburg wrote to Emala, addressing him as “Rev. Emala,” which signifies that he remained a Catholic priest.  The Diocese told Emala that the statute of limitations for criminal prosecution for sexual abuse of children is suspended when the accused leaves the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.  According to the documents reviewed by the grand jury, the Diocese advised Emala, “In order to avoid scandal and to avoid exposing you to continued accusation and possible criminal investigation, it is important that you not be present at any time within the territory of the Diocese of Harrisburg.”  The context of the communication, including why the Diocese of Harrisburg elected to write the letter long after Emala supposedly stopped working in Harrisburg and seemingly out of the blue, was not discussed by the grand jury.

Emala died in 2008 in Essex, Maryland.

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.