After years of dodging allegations of abusing children, a former Catholic priest pleaded guilty Wednesday to molesting two altar boys in Bucks County decades ago.

Francis Trauger, 74, admitted his guilt to two counts of indecent assault of a minor, and Bucks County Judge Jeffrey L. Finley sentenced him to 18 to 36 months in a state prison and seven years’ probation.

Despite being named in multiple grand jury reports on the sexual abuse of children by priests in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, Trauger had not been prosecuted until the case that led to Wednesday’s guilty plea.

Trauger did not speak during the hour-long hearing, which played out in a mostly empty courtroom, with only a few onlookers and a huddle of journalists.

His attorney, Brian McVann, said that the defrocked priest’s conduct “cannot be defended” and that Trauger felt compelled to admit his guilt and take responsibility for his actions.

“He has done great good in his life,” McVann said. “Unfortunately, it has been lost in this case.”

Finley, in handing down the sentence, told Trauger that any good he had done during his decades-long tenure with the church had been “torn down” and destroyed by these actions.

“I don’t know that you truly understood that,” the judge said. “Or at least that you truly didn’t understand that until you were arrested.”

Two men, now in their 30s, told investigators Trauger groped them as they changed into their altar boy vestments before Mass at St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Tullytown. The small community church was Trauger’s final assignment before he was named as an abuser in a sweeping grand jury report detailing decades of child abuse by priests in the archdiocese and a massive cover-up by church officials.

The Tullytown assaults took place in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when both victims were 12, prosecutors said. The case was referred to Bucks County District Attorney Matt Weintraub in 2018, after one of the men filed a complaint with the archdiocese’s victim compensation fund. The second victim came forward in March 2019.

Despite being nearly 20 years old, the cases were eligible for prosecution under a 2005 change in the state’s criminal statute of limitations for sex abuse.

“I want to make sure the message to other potential victims is clear,” Weintraub said Wednesday. “It is never too late to come forward to speak your truth.”

Bucks County District Attorney Matt Weintraub, speaking after Francis Trauger pleaded guilty to assaulting two altar boys, said the Archdiocese of Philadelphia fully cooperated with the investigation.
TYGER WILLIAMS / Staff Photographer
Bucks County District Attorney Matt Weintraub, speaking after Francis Trauger pleaded guilty to assaulting two altar boys, said the Archdiocese of Philadelphia fully cooperated with the investigation.

The first of those victims, who was assaulted starting in 1996, recorded a victim-impact statement that was played at the sentencing hearing. Choked with emotion, the man detailed how the abuse had left enduring scars, both mentally and physically, causing anxiety that led to failed suicide attempts and financial ruin.

“I don’t trust the church anymore,” the man said. “They could’ve helped me, but they continued to hurt me by shielding him.”

The other victim, in a written statement obtained by The Inquirer, called Trauger “a sick and vile deviant” and “a predator that deserves to be put in with those of like mind.”

“Frank used the ultimate authority to commit the most heinous and systemic abuse of boundaries that one can possibly conceive: raping little boys,” he wrote. “Let that sink in. For 30 years, this man has systemically cornered boys who no one will believe and rapes them.”

Trauger, who now lives in Brooklyn, was defrocked in 2005, amid the grand jury investigation overseen by then-District Attorney Lynne M. Abraham.

His conduct factored into the prosecution of former Msgr. William J. Lynn. In building their case against Lynn, assistant district attorneys cited years of clergy sex-abuse complaints on which the archdiocese failed to act, including credible claims that Trauger had abused teenage boys.

During the 2012 trial, one accuser testified that Trauger had locked him in a conference room at his Catholic high school in South Philadelphia for more than an hour to discuss homosexuality, touched him inappropriately, and made passing threats against his family.

Lynn was found guilty of child endangerment, but his conviction was vacated and a second trial is pending.