A priest at a Catholic parish in Collingswood, Camden County, abruptly announced his retirement this week and revealed that he had asked to be removed from ministry due to an accusation of sexual abuse — one that a diocesan review board deemed to be credible more than 15 years ago.
The Rev. John D. Bohrer’s decision to resign as administrator of St. Teresa of Calcutta Parish appears to have been prompted by the Camden Diocese’s plan to release a list this year of all its priests who have ever been credibly accused of abuse.
But questions remained as to how Bohrer, 74, had retained his post for years after his accusers’ claims were substantiated in a diocese that has a zero-tolerance policy for clergy misconduct.
Diocesan spokesperson Michael Walsh said Tuesday that Bishop Dennis J. Sullivan, who took the helm of the Camden Diocese in 2013, was unaware until recently of the details of the claims against Bohrer, which first emerged in 2002 and prompted his removal at the time. They were rediscovered last year when the diocese began preparing its list of credibly accused priests, Walsh said.
Bishops across the nation have released similar lists in recent months as a new wave of the clergy sex-abuse crisis roils the Catholic Church, but most priests named on such rolls are either long dead or were removed from ministry years ago.
Bohrer’s case appears to be a rare instance in which the compiling of such a list led to the discovery of an accused cleric still in active ministry.
“This accusation came to light during an independent review of personnel files,” Walsh said. “In keeping with … the diocese’s own zero-tolerance policy, Father Bohrer resigned his position and was removed from ministry.”
Bohrer could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
The allegation against him dates to 2002, the height of the original U.S. clergy sex-abuse crisis. That year, a 35-year-old man informed the diocese that Bohrer had abused him in the mid-1980s while the priest was assigned to St. Pius X in Cherry Hill.
Walsh, in a statement, said that church leaders at the time suspended Bohrer immediately, referred the claim against him to law enforcement, and conducted their own investigation. The diocese’s civilian review board determined the accuser’s claim to be credible and its findings were submitted to the Vatican.
Officials in Rome, however, ultimately concluded that the claim did not warrant Bohrer’s permanent removal from the priesthood — the most severe punishment the Vatican can issue, and one handed down in only a quarter of cases involving accused priests, according to Vatican data from 2004 to 2014.
The same year Bohrer was accused, Catholic bishops across the United States had vowed to never again allow any credibly accused priest return to active ministry.
And yet, then-Camden Bishop Joseph Galante, a chief proponent of that policy, lifted Bohrer’s suspension after the Vatican’s ruling and assigned him to new posts — first as a nursing-home chaplain in 2008 and then, in 2010, as vicar to Holy Saviour parish in Haddon Township.
The next year, Bohrer was named administrator of St. Teresa of Calcutta, a parish formed after the merger of Holy Saviour with the neighboring St. John’s. A parochial school associated with the parish, Good Shepherd Regional, enrolls about 200 students.
The diocese said Monday that no accusations were lodged against Bohrer after his return to ministry.
Asked Tuesday to explain Galante’s decision to put Bohrer back in charge of a parish, Walsh said: “I don’t know the answer to that question. There are no members of [Galante’s] administration remaining in the current administration of the diocese.”
Bohrer’s retirement comes as the Catholic Church faces a new wave of scandal kicked off last year by the ouster of top American Cardinal Theodore McCarrick over reports of his own sexual misconduct and a scathing Pennsylvania grand jury report that uncovered a decades-long history of abuse and cover-up implicating hundreds of clergy and affecting thousands of victims in six of the state’s eight Catholic dioceses.
In response, dozens of law enforcement officials nationwide, including New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal, have vowed new examinations of the church’s handling of abuse cases.
Like Sullivan, bishops in New Jersey’s four other dioceses have pledged to release lists of all credibly accused clerics this year. The Camden Diocese has not set a date for the release of its list.
“As a diocese, we continue to pray for all victims and survivors of sexual abuse and for their healing,” Walsh said.