Diocese of Harrisburg priest takes leave of absence following release of grand jury report

SUSQUEHANNA TOWNSHIP, DAUPHIN COUNTY, Pa. --- In a letter to parishioners, Father Paul Helwig of the St. Margaret Mary Alacoque Church said he is on "a break from ministry...for an unspecified amount of time..." effective this past weekend.

Letter issued by Father Paul Helwig, announcing "break from ministry"

The full letter obtained by FOX43 News reads as follows:

"Dear Parishioners,

With the publication of the Attorney General's Report on Clergy Sexual Misconduct and related media reports, the peace of the Diocese has been shaken and disturbed. Every faith community, especially those in which priests accused of sexual abuse had been assigned, has been adversely affected and is struggling to cope with the impact of the Report and the devastating blow it has produced.

As you know, my name is included in the Report. In the Report no allegations of sexual misconduct were directed at me.

Due to the publicity and activity affecting our Parish and me, I have been granted permission to take a break from ministry in the Parish for an unspecified amount of time beginning this weekend. Father Sam will be available for sacramental and liturgical needas, along with visiting priests who will assist on weekends.

You will be remembered in my prayers in a special way, as I ask you to remember me, the peace of mind and heart may return to all of us soon.

Blessings to all who hold fast their love of God and His Church.

Mary, Mother of the Church, pray for us and all who have been affected by any kind of abuse, but especially sexual abuse."

An anonymous source, who says he was sexually abused in the 1980s as a pre-teen by a former priest, Herbert Shank, mentioned Father Helwig to FOX43 as someone who had knowledge of Shank's inappropriate touching and conduct.

"Some of his expressions at times as I'm getting foot massages and I'm walking around in with shorts on and a t-shirt and in the living quarters. I think some of his expression resonate now that he knew or suspected that this was not normal. This is something that should not be happening but I didn't know any better, right? I'm a 12 year old kid whose got a couple glasses of wine in me." said the source.

In response to Father Helwig's letter, our anonymous source issued the following statement:

"I am deeply troubled by the sudden departure of Paul Helwig from active ministry following the release of the Grand Jury Report on Clergy abuse. The report did not implicate Paul Helwig in in any direct abuse, but the role he played for the Diocese to help shield and cover up the crimes makes him complicit in the abuse of hundreds of children in the Diocese of Harrisburg. There are senior members of the clergy refusing to step down after being directly implicated in the Grand Jury Report, but a priest who has direct ties with many of the cases of child abuse in the Diocese is suddenly on leave shortly after the report is released. What are they trying to hide and who are they trying to protect? Which is worse the cover up or the crime?"

According to the grand jury report, Father h=Helwig wrote notes or memos in regards to allegations against a dozen clergy members, including Herbert Shank.

After our source mentioned Father Helwig, FOX43 emailed Helwig on July 26, asking for comment on allegations against Herbert Shank.

The next day, FOX43 spoke with the Diocese of Harrisburg regarding comment from Father Helwig.

In an email, a spokesperson told FOX43 "after doing further research and speaking with counsel..." FOX43 had to seek Father Helwig for direct comment.

A follow-up email was sent to Father Helwig on July 31, again asking for comment.

A person in the St. Margaret Mary Alacoque parish office said Father Helwig was "away" until Tuesday, August 7.

To the time of publication and airing, FOX43 has not received an email response from Father Helwig nor an answer to a voicemail left at his parish office line.

After the grand jury report was released Tuesday, August 14, FOX43 went to the parish office to see if Father Helwig was there but he was not.

After obtaining Father Helwig's leave of absence letter Tuesday, FOX43 was told by someone at his parish office we needed to speak with the Diocese of Harrisburg.

A spokesperson with the Diocese of Harrisburg issued the following statement:

"As you are aware, Father Paul Helwig appears in the recently released Grand Jury Report. As we continue to review the Report, the Diocese is in the process of making a number of key personnel decisions."

The spokesperson clarified it was Father Helwig's own decision to take the leave of absence and "There will be other changes made within the Diocese, but those decisions have yet to be announced."