Priest suspended over allegations of abuse in 1980s, 1990s in Shenandoah
The Allentown Diocese has removed a priest with Carbon and Schuylkill county ties from ministry, pending an investigation of an allegation that he sexually abused a minor in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
The Rev. Robert J. Potts, pastor of St. Ursula Church, Fountain Hill, has been removed from ministry after an allegation made recently to the administrators of the Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program, who then notified the diocese.
The diocese had no prior knowledge of the allegation until being notified by program administrators. The program was established by the diocese to provide compensation to abuse victims as one part of their healing.
On the day he was notified of the allegation, Bishop Alfred Schlert removed Potts from ministry and directed that law enforcement be notified, according to a press release from the diocese on Sunday.
The diocese said, “The removal of Potts from ministry at this time is not a determination of guilt, but rather a precautionary measure until the appropriate investigations are completed.”
The abuse allegedly occurred when Potts, now 82, was pastor of the former St. George Parish, Shenandoah. He was ordained in March 1964.
As part of its cooperation with law enforcement, the diocese sought the guidance of the Schuylkill County District Attorney’s office regarding the appropriate timing of a public announcement.
Parishioners of St. Ursula’s were informed of the allegation at all Masses this weekend.
Potts served at Immaculate Conception in Jim Thorpe from 1964-1965; St. Joseph in Easton, 1965-1966; St. Vincent de Paul in Minersville, 1966-1967; St. Ann in Lansford, 1967-1969; Notre Dame in Bethlehem, 1969-1970; St. Vincent de Paul, Minersville, 1970-1978; St. Bernard, Easton, 1978-1979; Sacred Heart, New Philadelphia, 1979-1985; St. George, Shenandoah, 1985-2004; added to assignment, Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Shenandoah, 1986-2004; added to assignment: St. Stephen, Shenandoah, 2001-2004; St. Mary, Ringtown and St. Joseph, Sheppton, 2004-2006; St. Ursula, Fountain Hill, 2006-present.
In late September, the Rev. Stephen J. Halabura, 87, who has been retired for 11 years, was found unsuitable for ministry after an investigation of an incident that Father Halabura self-reported to the diocese.
In May 2019, Halabura admitted sexually abusing a minor in the early 1980s.
After Halabura self-reported the incident, Bishop Alfred Schlert removed Halabura from ministry, and law enforcement was notified.
Anyone who knows of incidents of abuse, in the church or elsewhere, should report it to the State Child Line at 800-932-0313 or to local law enforcement. To speak directly to the Diocese of Allentown’s Victim Assistance Coordinator, call her direct line: 800-791-9209.