A letter from a Pennsylvania reader, with a few small changes to protect his identity:
I was a seminarian for the Diocese of Pittsburgh and I attended St. Mark’s Seminary in Erie, PA in the 1970s. I was there when three named abusers were also in residence and in positions of authority: Fathers Luzzi, Kelley, and Muroski. Luzzi was the Rector of the Seminary, Kelley, an instructor and spiritual director, Muroski was the Vocation Director for the Diocese of Erie. I was personally acquainted with other named abusers — Father Michael Barletta and Thomas Schanz. I was in the eye of the storm, so to speak.
Well so far, so what? I was aware of an undercurrent of homosexual relationships and priests having special relationships with a number of the guys, but none of the behaviors as outlined in the Grand Jury report rose to the surface. Barletta had a real following among the seminarians from the Sharon-Farrell area (Western PA, north of Pittsburgh) as he had taught there at Kennedy Christian HS. There was an atmosphere of secrecy and rot, but you could never put your finger on just what that rot was. I always kept my distance from these men and made my confessions in a local neighborhood church. I believe that these young men were compromised in the context of confession and spiritual direction. Whenever I sought spiritual direction these sessions always revolved around my sex life (or more to the point — the lack thereof). These sessions were always graphic and made me uncomfortable in the extreme. They equated homosexual relations with the sin of masturbation- easily fallen into and just as quickly forgiven by a merciful God who had forgiven you before you had even indulged in your sin.
In the Grand Jury report on Fr. Luzzi there is the reference to a possible suicide as a result of the sexual abuse the individual had suffered at St. Mark’s. I learned of his suicide in July of 2003, right after it happened. His name was Michael Reichart. He was 48 years old, a husband and a father. He burned himself alive near the grounds of Warren State Hospital. The brief report of the incident can be found on vindy.com or a quick search of the Sharon, PA newspaper archives. Mike was a good guy — funny, athletic, and always helpful when you needed a favor, big or small. He came from such a great family — his dad was a steelworker as were his brothers. He unfortunately was also one of “Bart’s boys.” Father Barletta) I refused to draw any conclusions from that when I heard about his horrific death. But what can I conclude now? His end has haunted me to this day. But at least I think I understand it now.
As far as my faith is concerned? It is spent, shot to pieces by all of this. I thought 2002 was bad, but the Church would endure. I don’t think that anymore. It deserves to crumble into dust.
Here’s a newspaper report I found on the suicide:
SHARON, Pa. — Authorities in Warren County are investigating the death of a South Pymatuning Township man who was severely burned on a street in the small town of North Warren.
Michael F. Reichart, 48, of Springwood Drive, was found by a Warren County transit driver shortly after 8 a.m. Tuesday and was pronounced dead of his burns shortly before 11 a.m. after being flown to the Burn Trauma Center at West Penn Hospital in Pittsburgh.
Authorities told local press outlets that Reichart apparently doused himself with gasoline and set himself ablaze.
Reichart worked as the employee assistance program coordinator at Sharon Regional Health System and helped bring psychiatrists and psychologists to the area.
Here is the text of the grand jury report’s entry on Father Luzzi:
After several years teaching at Venango Christian High School, Reverend Salvatore P. Luzzi was moved to St. Mark’s Seminary, where he filled several roles. Over the course of his 30 year ministry, he was accused of sexual misconduct by eight male victims ranging in age from early teens to early twenties. Some of these victims were groped, inappropriately kissed, hugged, and/or fondled. He also faced allegations of responsibility for the suicide of a former student/victim.
Luzzi worked extensively with young would-be priests at St. Mark’s where he and fellow priest Leon Muroski served as Spiritual Directors to the seminarians. Luzzi’s inappropriate touching and fondling of at least two seminarians prompted the Diocese to settle with those seminarians for large sums of money. The first former Seminarian’s case was settled in civil court for $34,500 and this individual received several thousand dollars over the course of the many years that the Diocese paid for his counseling and medication costs.
Several other former juvenile victims of Luzzi received letters or phone calls of apology from the Diocese. These victims were counseled by the Diocese through correspondence or in person interviews wherein Luzzi’s behavior was dismissed as “Sal’s way of expressing himself’ and his “touching approach” to ministry was attributed to his Italian upbringing.
The Diocese listed several Luzzi victims in its internal reports, but little to no documentation was contained in the files. It was alleged that Luzzi groped the buttocks of one victim in a hardware store in 1998. This individual was 19 at the time of the incident. Luzzi denied the touching and only admitted to patting this individual on the back.
In 1974-1975, Luzzi and Father Leon Muroski were working at Camp Notre Dame in Fairview when a young seminarian named Michael Amy was accused of fondling two juveniles. These victims reported the incident to the Pennsylvania State Police, the Diocese of Erie, and to their parents. The Diocese representative for this incident at Camp Notre Dame was Father Lawrence Speice. Speice assisted Amy by interceding on Amy’s behalf with the State Police and the boys’ parents. No arrest was made. Luzzi and Muroski dealt with Amy by making him attend counselling and keeping him in seminary. Amy would go on to abuse at least two more juveniles, along with several other unidentified juvenile prostitutes as an ordained priest prior to being laicized.
During Amy’s laicization process, he called Speice, Muroski and Luzzi as his witnesses. Muroski denied knowledge of any wrongdoings by Amy. Speice and Luzzi both admitted some knowledge of Amy’s molestation of children in 1974-1975. Luzzi wrote on Amy’s Witness Statement that he was “amazed that he was made a pastor in a place where something happened before,” and that “there certainly should have been something in his Seminary day files.” Luzzi added, “I personally wondered when these things would resurface.”
In 1994, Bishop Trautman sent both Luzzi and Muroski to St. Luke’s Institute for therapy. The Diocese publicly announced that Luzzi was going on an extended sabbatical for “personal, spiritual and academic growth.” Once Luzzi was discharged, the Bishop welcomedhim back into pastoral ministry by letter on February 14, 1995. However, the welcome also came with several conditions and a Penial Precept, a formal notification in the church that restricts ministry. Trautman directed Luzzi to refrain from all contact with youth under 19 years of age and to avoid travel and social interaction with such parishioners. Later that same year, in September 1995, Trautman had Luzzi’ s faculties as a priest removed and Luzzi began residing in a private residence, where he remains today.
It was Luzzi’s position that Trautman forced him to retire. It was the position of Trautman and the Diocese that what led to Luzzi’s resignation was the weight of new allegations and the real possibility of widespread publicity. It was found in subpoenaed files that Luzzi’s accusers threatened to take “appropriate steps” if Luzzi was not removed from ministry. This information was found in an internal document written by Monsignor Robert Smith and placed into Luzzi’ s file on October 12, 1995. Smith and Trautman informed Luzzi that if he did not retire of his own free will, the Diocese would follow the canonical process specified in church law to remove Luzzi. Luzzi resigned less than 30 days later.
Michael Reichart, RIP.