St.Patrick's Catholic Church (copy)

The facade of St. Patrick's Catholic Church at 134 St. Philip St. in downtown Charleston. File/Leroy Burnell/Staff

Among the more than 300 Roman Catholic priests accused of sexual abuse in an explosive report by a grand jury in Pennsylvania this week, at least one spent time leading a church in Charleston in the early 1990s after an alleged victim came forward in Pennsylvania in the late 1980s.

The Rev. Robert E. Spangenberg served as a pastor at St. Patrick Catholic Church in downtown Charleston from 1990 through 1993, according to the 40th Statewide Investigating Grand Jury's report.

The findings were released Tuesday and sent shockwaves through Catholic communities across the state and country.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Charleston gave a slightly different timeline, saying in a prepared statement he served at St. Patrick from 1990 through 1992.

"To the best of our knowledge, there is no record of any allegations of misconduct made against Father Spangenberg while he was assigned to the parish," the diocese said.

The diocese covers all of South Carolina.

The statement noted that while the diocese was closed Wednesday for the Holy Feast Day of the Assumption, "a more thorough record search will be undertaken."

"The Diocese of Charleston encourages all victims, including any of Father Spangenberg, to contact civil authorities," the statement continued. "Additionally, those who have knowledge of any sexual misconduct by Father Spangenberg, or by any Church personnel, should contact civil authorities in their area."

The statement adds that to receive help and guidance from the diocese, those with questions should contact Louisa Storen, victim assistance coordinator, at 800-921-8122.

"The Most Reverend Robert E. Guglielmone, Bishop of Charleston, asks everyone to pray for all victims of abuse and for their families," the statement also said.

The Pennsylvania grand jury report covers six of Pennsylvania's eight dioceses and alleges that more than 300 priests sexually abused more than 1,000 identifiable victims over a period of seven decades while convincing victims not to report their abuse to law enforcement.

Some priests, including Spangenberg, were relocated to other parishes after accusers came forward. The grand jury found that church leaders often hid their reasons for moving a priest out of a community.

“Priests were raping little boys and girls, and the men of God who were responsible for them not only did nothing; they hid it all. For decades," the report said.

Spangenberg, born in 1947, professed his vows to the Spiritans, a Catholic organization founded in 18th-century France to minister to poor and oppressed people and those recently freed from slavery. He first served in 1974 as a faculty member at Holy Ghost Preparatory School in Bensalem, Pennsylvania, before serving as a pastor and chaplain at a variety of churches and schools in Pennsylvania and Michigan.

The Diocese of Pittsburgh first heard a complaint about Spangenberg in 1988 when he was serving as pastor at St. Anthony Church in Millvale, Pennsylvania, according to the grand jury's timeline. A woman wrote to the Diocese and the Vatican asking for help with her son after Spangenberg allegedly abused him.

"She wrote that she was upset that her letter was simply 'noted' and that she has not heard from anyone regarding the matter since," the report states.

Church leaders conducted an internal investigation, and on Jan. 12, 1989, Father Norman E. Bevan, a priest who was counseling the boy's family sent a report on the findings to diocese leaders. On March 9 of the same year, the priest wrote a letter to the boy's family in which he mentioned the incident was more than five years old.

"Excessive use of alcohol contributed significantly to clouding the judgment and perception and further exacerbates the reliability of memory both at the time of the time of the alleged incident," Bevan wrote, according to the grand jury, before adding, "I do believe that Father Spangenberg exercised questionable judgment."

The diocese and the Spiritans did not remove Spangenberg from ministry, but he was relocated in 1989 to serve as superior of a retirement home in Sarasota, Fla. In 1990, Spangenberg became pastor at St. Patrick Catholic Church in Charleston, one of the only historically black Catholic parishes in South Carolina.

After leaving St. Patrick, Spangenberg served in a number of capacities in Pennsylvania, North Carolina and again in Sarasota before retiring in 2003 and dying in 2006, according to the report.

As with many of the cases described in the grand jury's report, the allegations against Spangenberg are too old for victims to file civil complaints under Pennsylvania's statute of limitations.

In 2009, an adult male came forward with an accusation that when he was 15 to 16 years old, Spangenberg had engaged in "sexual activities" with him after he ran away from home, according to the report. It is unclear from the report's wording if the man made his report to public officials or to church leaders.

The man claimed that when he was a boy, he was involved in street prostitution with a group of boys known as "Hustlers" and that Spangenberg had also paid him a "finder's fee" to help locate younger prostitutes for Spangenberg to have sex with.

The accuser claimed Spangenberg paid for sexual services with money from the collection box, gave the boys drugs and alcohol, and sniffed glue while performing oral sex on him.

One note in the Diocesan files said the boy thought Spangenberg was a "really sick guy."

The grand jury found that the diocese and the Spiritans have been paying for the man's therapy, medication, job searches, criminal court costs and part of his child support payments.

Spangenberg is the only accused priest whom the grand jury identified as having served in South Carolina, according to a search of the 1,356-page report, but others may have spent time in South Carolina.

Some priests' names were redacted in the public version of the report or identified only as "Pittsburgh Priests #2-10."

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Reach Paul Bowers at 843-937-5546. Follow him on Twitter @paul_bowers.

Paul Bowers is an education reporter and father of three living in North Charleston. He previously worked at the Charleston City Paper, where he was twice named South Carolina Journalist of the Year in the weekly category.

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