Priest Identified in PA Sex Abuse Report Briefly Worked in Hellertown Parish

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A Catholic priest (FILE PHOTO/STOCK IMAGE; Source:

Note: This article contains graphic information about the alleged sexual abuse of children. Reader discretion is advised.

A Catholic priest identified as an alleged pedophile in a 1,356 page report issued Tuesday following a grand jury investigation into allegations of widespread sexual abuse by priests in Pennsylvania over many decades worked briefly at a Hellertown church in June 1970, and during the summer of 1970 as a director for the local Catholic Youth Organization chapter.

According to the report, Rev. Francis Joseph McNelis was assigned to St. Theresa of the Child Jesus Roman Catholic church from June 3, 1970 to June 9, 1970.

After less than a week at St. Theresa, McNelis became the Regional Director for the Northampton County Catholic Youth Organization (CYO), where he was employed until Sept. 25, 1970 according to his employment history, which is detailed in the report on page 355.

Prior to coming to Hellertown McNelis served at St. Jerome’s in Tamaqua for about a year, and over the course of a 37-year career that ended with his retirement in 2002, he was assigned to work in or at 15 different parishes and church-related organizations.

Two of the other parishes at which McNelis worked are also located in the Lehigh Valley.

According to the report, from April 4, 1972 to Sept. 19, 1972 he was employed at St. Francis in Easton, and from Aug. 30, 1974 to June 17, 1975, he worked at St. Ann’s in Emmaus.

Most of the other parishes McNelis worked in are located in the Coal Region of northeastern Pennsylvania.

McNelis was born in Lansford, Carbon County, in 1938 and ordained a priest on May 22, 1965. He died on March 24, 2005 in the VNA Hospice of St. Luke’s in Fountain Hill, according to an obituary that was published in the Morning Call two days after his death.

According to the obituary, McNelis was 67 years old and a resident of Holy Family Villa in Bethlehem at the time of his death.

There are no specific allegations against McNelis stemming from his time spent working as a priest at St. Theresa or the other Lehigh Valley parishes, however investigating authorities–including Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro–have stated that they believe there are other victims of the so-called “predator priests” named in the report who have yet to come forward.

To report sexual abuse by a clergy member, members of the public can call the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office clergy abuse hotline at 888-538-8541.

The following excerpts are the specific allegations of abuse against McNelis contained within the grand jury report on pages 355-356.

In December 1992, a known victim reported that, between 1966 and 1968, Father Francis McNelis sexually abused him when he was between the ages of 10 and 13. McNelis masturbated the victim after having him lay on his back on McNelis’ bed in the rectory. McNelis eventually forced the victim to masturbate McNelis. McNelis also told the victim he wanted to have anal sex with him. According to the victim, McNelis masturbated him on five or six occasions but anal sex did not occur. Records provided by the Diocese show McNelis was sent to Jemez Springs (New Mexico) for “spiritual and professional care.” After his stay at Jemez Springs, the Diocese assigned McNelis to St. Ignatius Loyola as an Associate Pastor. On McNelis’ assignment listing, which was provided by the Diocese, and next to his St. Ignatius assignment in parenthesis is a notation, “Not for Publication.” Despite repeated requests by McNelis to be reassigned, McNelis remained at St. Ignatius until he retired in 2002.

In 2004, a second victim came forward and reported sexual abuse by McNelis. After several years of grooming by McNelis, in 1968, when the second victim was approximately 16, McNelis forced the second victim to submit to McNelis performing fellatio on him. Soon after this incident, a second incident of abuse occurred in the rectory of St. Joseph, where again McNelis forcibly performed oral sex on the second victim.

For information about area churches where other “predator priests” allegedly worked, view the report. has also published an interactive map that lists the location of all Allentown Diocese parishes in which priests named in the report were employed.

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