5 sisters sexually harassed by Catholic priest in Pennsylvania

5 sisters sexually harassed by Catholic priest in Pennsylvania

Five sisters were sexually abused by the same child predator Catholic priest when one of them was just 18-months-old.

The Fortney sisters said Father Augustine Giella was such a trusted family friend that he was like a grandfather figure, showering them with gifts.

But there was a sinister side to the pastor that went unnoticed by their parents until he was arrested in 1992 for having nude photos of one of the girls.

The sick abuse even happened at the kitchen table in front of their parents, but it was often carried out in ways their mum and dad “couldn’t see”.

Four of the five sisters – Patty, Lara, Teresa and Carolyn – have spoken publicly to CBS News about the abuse they suffered in the American town of Enhaut, Pennsylvania in the 1980s.

They have since left the Catholic Church, which is accusing of protecting 300 priests, including Giella, who abused more than 1,000 children in Pennsylvania over decades, according to a grand jury report.

Patty was 13 when the abuse began, Lara was 10, Teresa was about six-years-old and Carolyn was aged just 18 months.

The girls said they didn’t understand what Giella was doing to them when they were all such a young age, and they trusted him because he was their priest.

Carolyn said she didn’t realise that it was sexual abuse until she was 12, adding: “I was watching a movie of a priest molesting altar boys and that’s kind of the day that I put it together.”

Teresa Fortney-Miller said Giella would take the girls out and buy them anything they wanted, including candy, toys and clothing.

There were times when the priest would abuse one of the siblings in front of the others.

Patty Fortney-Julius said: “He was constantly hugging me in front of them, kissing me in front of them, trying to put his tongue in your mouth.

“He needed to know my cup size. I would continually remind myself, ‘He’s my priest. He’s the mediator between God and man. This is OK’.”

Lara Fortney McKeever added: “Even at our kitchen table things happened in front of my parents’ face that they couldn’t see.”

After retiring in 1989, Giella continued to see the family.

The girls’ parents, Ed and Patty, had their world turned upside down when one of their grandchildren found a box containing nude photos of Carolyn and pornography.

Their parents reported the images to the local diocese in 1992 and one of the sisters reported the sexual abuse to social services.

Giella was charged with sexual assault, child endangerment and child pornography offences, but the ex-priest died in 1993 – when he was in his early 70s – before his trial began.

He was known to have worked at six churches in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

The Fortney family filed two civil lawsuits against the Harrisburg diocese. Both were settled.

The sisters only recently began discussing the abuse amongest themselves.

They decided to speak out publicly to help others who have been abused and prevent further abuse.

In a statement to CBS News, the Diocese of Harrisburg apologised to the family and called Giella a “monster who preyed on innocent children”.

It said the Fortney sisters’ case was mishandled and those who were in power at the time failed to protect them.

But the sisters said they have never received a direct apology from the Catholic Church.

Last week, New York, New Jersey and New Mexico launched investigations into the handling of child sex abuse allegations in the Catholic Church.