Thursday, September 29th, 2022
So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
My Siblings in Christ,
Back in February of this year I wrote to you to emphasize again our “zero tolerance” policy for abuse against children and to begin to provide additional guidance to you in order that we might continue to take steps to deter, detect, and address such abuse.
This communication came because the diocese was contacted by a person abused by a lay employee of one of our churches. In response, we immediately took steps to communicate the report to law enforcement authorities and the Diocese of New Jersey (where the perpetrator had recently worked and has since been fired), and we launched an investigation of the allegations, free of involvement from any parish or person who might have an interest in the outcome.
This diocese and the Diocese of New Jersey concluded that Thomas Whittemore, who served until 2003 as the director of the Boys’ Choir at St. Peter’s in Philadelphia, sexually abused two minors. The incidents took place both on the St. Peter’s campus and at locations off campus while the choir was performing in other locations or at the location used for the annual summer choir camp in New Jersey.
In addition, this diocese and the Diocese of New Jersey uncovered a great deal of information to show that Mr. Whittemore repeatedly and openly engaged in inappropriate behavior with members of the Boys’ Choir, and plied boys with liquor or illegal drugs, including while socializing with them in the St. Peter’s Parish House and in other locations. The use of illegal drugs and the underage consumption of alcohol was directly correlated to the sexual abuse.
In another incident, a then assistant rector at St. Peter’s attempted to enter a shower being used by a chorister while at the choir camp in New Jersey. Although the rector terminated the employment of the assistant rector, the conduct was not properly reported or addressed, and, shockingly, the assistant rector was recommended for a subsequent job. The diocese was aware of these events but did not take steps to ensure appropriate reporting or to prevent the assistant rector from new employment in our Church.
This is unholy and immoral. This is sin.
On behalf of the diocese, I want to apologize to the victims. I cannot overstate the pain and sadness for those who were repeatedly abused by someone they trusted. And, the overwhelming respect and love I feel for those who had the courage to come forward and report what they experienced and saw. It is clear that people must have known of this abuse, but did nothing. That is also sin.
We must go beyond what is required.
Jesus is clear in scripture about those who harm a child, and we will follow him by doing everything possible to protect our children. When someone who represents the Church violates trust, it is earth shattering. Those painful stories can crush the soul and our faith.
The process to uncover and report abuse in the Church must be as strong as we can possibly make it. We are preparing processes now that go beyond what is required of this diocese and of our churches. I am prepared to offer to our diocese a process that is the most comprehensive within The Episcopal Church. As your shepherd, I will not allow predators to prey on our flock.
During this time, I have been in constant communication with the current vestry of St. Peter’s. They are faithful and committed to addressing the sins of the past, and ensuring this doesn’t happen again.
Anyone who wishes to speak about this or any related situations, is encouraged to email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 215-627-6434 ext. 109. All conversations will be kept confidential. You will be connected with one of several people in our diocese trained to respond appropriately and pastorally to allegations of abuse, and who share my commitment to treating anyone who calls as a beloved child of God, deserving of respect, confidentiality, comfort, and care.
I ask you to pray for those courageous enough to share their stories. For all the children who have ever been abused or harmed by those in authority, as well as those who suffered this abuse and are now living with the resulting trauma.
Below are further details from the investigator's report:
A. Sexual Abuse
In September 2021, an individual wrote to the diocese stating he was sexually abused for several years by Thomas Whittemore while he was a chorister at St. Peter’s Church in Philadelphia. In February 2022, the Bishop of the Diocese of Pennsylvania posted a letter on the diocesan web site regarding both the investigation into the complainant’s allegations and the conclusion that this complaint was corroborated and founded. At about the same time, Mr. Whittemore, who was then employed at a parish in the Diocese of New Jersey, was terminated from his employment.
Mr. Whittemore served St. Peter’s as the Director of the Boys’ Choir between 1984 and 2003. The independent investigation conducted determined that the complainant’s allegations were corroborated after witness interviews and a review of other information. In addition, the complainant, who cooperated fully with the investigation, was credible, carefully and thoughtfully describing the events in his youth. In addition, while Mr. Whittemore declined a request to be interviewed, he admitted to having at least one sexual encounter with the complainant.
During the investigation, appropriate reports were made to law enforcement, along with assurances of full cooperation in any investigation. In addition, immediately after the complaint was made, the parish then employing Mr. Whittemore suspended him to ensure the safety of the children while this investigation was conducted.
While the complainant’s report was deemed founded and credible by the end of February 2022, the investigation continued because of information received suggesting that there may be other individual victims of Mr. Whittemore’s abuse; and to determine the circumstances that permitted Mr. Whittemore to sexually abuse the original complainant over a number of years without detection or challenge.
The continued investigation revealed that Mr. Whittemore had raped a second minor victim, after giving the boy inebriating amounts of drugs and alcohol. The second victim was violently sodomized on St. Peter’s campus but was not a member of the congregation of the Boys’ Choir. The information provided by the second victim was also corroborated and he was found to be credible.
Again, upon learning of the second incident of abuse, appropriate reports were made to law enforcement, together with assurances of full cooperation in any investigation.
B. Boundary Violations
The investigation uncovered multiple boundary violations by Mr. Whittemore, including the use of drugs and alcohol with minors, which appeared to create a culture where abuse could occur under circumstances discouraging the teenage victims from reporting the harm suffered. Mr. Whittemore engaged in inappropriate and explicit sexual discussions with the choristers who were interviewed. He provided the choristers with drugs and alcohol, both on church property and during off-site camps and trips; and hosted parties with underage choristers involving liquor and drugs in his apartment located in St. Peter’s parish house.
There is no information to indicate that the adults at St. Peter’s questioned Mr. Whittemore’s conduct or raised concerns. The conduct, however, was sufficiently open and notorious that adults who were not members of the congregation or leadership concluded there was something amiss about the boys’ choir and Mr. Whittemore’s exclusive control over that choir.
Mr. Whittemore was terminated from St. Peter’s in 2003.
The investigation did not reveal any members of the clergy who were aware of Mr. Whittemore’s boundary violations or sexual abuse of minors. However, a related incident involving the Boys’ Choir was revealed during the investigation. The parish rector was informed that an assistant rector had attempted to enter a shower being used by a boy chorister and while the rector terminated the assistant rector, his response was otherwise inadequate for the protection of children or the integrity of the church. The assistant rector involved has since died. The parish rector involved is no longer resident in the Diocese of Pennsylvania and the information gathered in the investigation pertaining to this matter will be addressed as required by Canon IV of the Canons of the Episcopal Church.