U.S.

Pennsylvania Priest Accused of Child Abuse Given Disney World Job Reference by Diocese, Grand Jury Report Says

catholic priest disney world child abuse
A Catholic worshiper holds a cross during a mass for Ash Wednesday, at Beijing’s government-sanctioned South Cathedral, on February 14. On Tuesday, the Pennsylvania Grand Jury noted in a report that Father Edward George Ganster, who was accused by at least three people of child abuse, went on to work at Walt Disney World. GREG BAKER/AFP/Getty Images

A Pennsylvania grand jury report spanning over 1,300 pages was released on Tuesday, detailing various sexual abuses that occurred in six Pennsylvania dioceses, including one instance in which a priest received a letter of reference for a job at Walt Disney World after he quit following abuse claims.

The report included abuse charges against Father Edward George Ganster, who began his career with the church in 1971 as an assistant pastor at the Notre Dame of Bethlehem Church in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.  

In 2002, a victim who was then age 37, contacted the diocese and said that when he was a 14-year-old altar boy at St. Joseph in Frackville, Pennsylvania, Ganster fondled and groped him.

“On one occasion, Ganster dragged the boy across a living room floor, pulling him by the underwear. Ganster also beat the victim repeatedly, once using a metal cross,” the report states. “The abuse at the hands of Ganster lasted for over one-and-a-half years and all happened in St. Joseph's Rectory.”

The victim reported the abuse again in 2004 and received counseling, although the diocese didn’t report the abuse to the Northampton County District Attorney’s Office until 2007, years after Ganster left the church.

The report said that in 2005, the mother of a second victim reported to the diocese that her son was sexually abused by Ganster in 1977 when he was 13 years old. Following an overnight beach trip with Ganster, the victim told his parents that the priest hurt him and got into bed with him. At the time, the mother told Monsignor Connelly about what her son had said and Connelly told her that Ganster was going to be removed from the parish, but Ganster was reassigned instead.

The mother of a third victim contacted the diocese in 2015 and reported that her son was abused by Ganster in the summer of 1977, when he was 12 years old.

catholic priest disney world child abuse A Catholic worshiper holds a cross during a mass for Ash Wednesday, at Beijing’s government-sanctioned South Cathedral, on February 14. On Tuesday, the Pennsylvania Grand Jury noted in a report that Father Edward George Ganster, who was accused by at least three people of child abuse, went on to work at Walt Disney World. GREG BAKER/AFP/Getty Images

According to the report, Ganster was laicized at his request in 1990 because he wanted to get married. Ganster wrote to the diocese and expressed that he hoped to use the diocese as a reference for a job he was seeking at Walt Disney World.

“Despite knowing Ganster was a sexual predator, Monsignor [Anthony] Muntone, [of the Diocese of Allentown], responded to Ganster's request for a reference by writing, ‘I am quite sure that the Diocese will be able to give you a positive reference in regard to the work you did during your years of service here as a priest,’” the report stated.

Ganster was hired by Walt Disney World, where he worked for the next 18 years, according to the report. Ganster passed away in July 2014. According to an obituary in the Orlando Sentinel, he drove trains in the Magic Kingdom. Newsweek reached out to Walt Disney World but did not receive a response in time for publication.

Despite the claims made in the report, the grand jury said it recognized the church has changed over the past 15 years. Five bishops from the dioceses that were investigated submitted statements to the grand jury and one bishop appeared in person.

“His testimony impressed us as forthright and heartfelt. It appears that the church is now advising law enforcement of abuse reports more promptly,” the report stated. “Internal review processes have been established. Victims are no longer quite so invisible.”

The grand jury made a total of four recommendations, including:

  • Eliminating the criminal statute of limitations for sexually abusing children.
  • Creating a two-year "civil window" for child sex abuse victims who couldn't file lawsuits before.
  • Clarifying the penalties for a continuing failure to report child abuse.
  • Prohibiting "non-disclosure" agreements regarding cooperation with law enforcement.

In total, the grand jury found credible allegations against over 300 priests and identified over 1,000 child victims, although they believe the real number of victims is higher.