Lay employee fired amid child sex abuse investigation launched by Pennsylvania, New Jersey dioceses

Posted Feb 25, 2022

[Episcopal News Service] Pennsylvania Bishop Daniel Gutiérrez issued the following message to his diocese on Feb. 25 outlining an investigation of child sex abuse claims against a New Jersey lay employee who previously had served for 20 years at a parish in Philadelphia. The employee, Thomas Whittemore, was terminated from parish ministry this week as the two dioceses’ investigation continues.

My Siblings in Christ,

It grieves me to tell you that several months ago, we were contacted by someone who reported that he had been sexually abused as a child by Mr. Thomas Whittemore during the time Mr. Whittemore served as the director of music at St. Peter’s Church, Pine St., Philadelphia. Mr. Whittemore was employed by St. Peter’s from 1984 to 2004 and employed from 1980 to 1983 at All Saints, Wynnewood. At the time we received the report, Mr. Whittemore was employed by a parish in the Episcopal Diocese of New Jersey.

We immediately reported the allegations to the appropriate law enforcement authorities; shared the report with Bishop William Stokes of the Episcopal Diocese of New Jersey; and offered ongoing pastoral support to the courageous person who had come forward to disclose the alleged abuse. Mr. Whittemore was immediately suspended by the New Jersey parish.

Together, Bishop Stokes and I agreed to commission an independent investigation of the allegations, free of involvement from any parish or person who might have an interest in the outcome. This independent investigation is being overseen by our dioceses and conducted by Michael J. Rinaldi of Duane Morris LLP. In addition, both dioceses and the independent investigator are cooperating fully with law enforcement authorities, and I have directed the parishes in our diocese where Mr. Whittemore worked to do the same.

Although the independent investigation is not yet complete, it has recently concluded that the allegations we received against Mr. Whittemore are credible based on compelling evidence. As a result, he was terminated from his position in New Jersey earlier this week.

At this stage of the ongoing investigation, I ask anyone who has any information about allegations against Mr. Whittemore, or who wishes to speak about any related situations, to email 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 also encourage anyone who has an allegation of child abuse of any kind to make a report to Pennsylvania law enforcement authorities using ChildLine: 1-800-932-0313. I have also asked the parishes involved in this situation to direct anyone who reaches out to them to our diocesan phone/email (above) to ensure the ongoing independence of the investigation.

Our decision to conduct this investigation at the diocesan level, in partnership with the Episcopal Diocese of New Jersey, reflects the serious nature of the allegations, the importance of independence in investigations of this sort, our shared and absolute commitment to ensuring that every corner of our church offers a safe space for all children and youth, and our commitment to investigate all claims, whether they be made about clergy, lay employees or volunteers. As part of this commitment, we handle credible allegations of abuse with transparency and pastoral sensitivity, loving one another as Christ loves each of us. Our faith also calls us to account for and learn from our past — and we will.

Even at the most difficult times in our common life, Jesus lights the way toward justice and wholeness. As your bishop, I pledge to continue working closely with law enforcement authorities and the independent investigator, taking all necessary steps to preserve the independence and integrity of the investigation. By doing so, I hope to gain a greater understanding of this matter and understand how it may help us strengthen our already extensive safe church practices and improve how we manage and respond to any future complaints of abuse.

Jesus is clear in scripture about those who harm a child, and we will follow him by doing everything possible to protect our children. I cannot emphasize enough that this type of evil will not be tolerated.

I will communicate with you again when there is more news to share. Until then, I ask that you join me in prayer for all 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.

The Rt. Reverend Daniel G. P. Gutiérrez

XVI Bishop of The Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania