The Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh has received an allegation that a religious brother -- now facing sexual-abuse charges in Australia -- also sexually abused a minor while he was assigned to North Catholic High School in Pittsburgh.
The Rev. Ronald Lengwin, vicar general for the diocese, said the report came in after the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported last month about Brother Bernard Hartman's pending trial in Australia on 18 criminal charges that he sexually assaulted two boys and two girls in the 1970s and early 1980s, when he was posted at a school in Melbourne.
Brother Hartman, a science teacher, was assigned to North Catholic in 1961 and 1979 and from 1986 to 1997. Father Lengwin said the allegation is the first that the diocese has received from Brother Hartman's time here, and the diocese considers it credible and turned it over to civil authorities.
Father Lengwin declined to give specifics such as when the abuse occurred, citing the privacy wishes of the accuser, but he said it involved someone with a connection to North Catholic.
The diocese said it knew nothing of allegations against Brother Hartman until last month. The St. Louis-based Marianist Province of the United States acknowledges it removed Brother Hartman from North Catholic in 1997 after learning of the Australia allegations. But the order did not alert the public to the reason for his abrupt removal at the time.
An Australian woman went public with allegations in 2011 and Brother Hartman returned to Australia to face charges after they were filed in 2013. A court recently found probable cause to put him on trial next year.
Officials with what is now named Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic sent a letter March 28 to alumni alerting them of the Australia charges and urging anyone who may have been abused to come forward to the diocese and to alert civil authorities.
"The Diocese of Pittsburgh, including its Schools Office, had no prior knowledge of that allegation or any other allegation nor of the Marianists' reason for removing Brother Hartman," said the letter, signed by the Rev. Charles S. Bober, president of Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic, and diocesan schools Superintendent Michael Latusek.
According to the Marianists, Brother Hartman was sent for treatment in 1997 after the order learned of the Australia allegation, and it kept him from teaching since then under what it called a "safety plan."
Brother Hartman, 74, lived in Dayton, Ohio, for much of the time between his removal from Pittsburgh and his eventual arrest. According to the Marianists, he performed clerical duties such as letter-writing and did not work with children.
But for years afterward, Brother Hartman continued to present himself as a brother in good standing publicly.
Peter Smith: email@example.com, 412-263-1416 or on Twitter @PG_PeterSmith. First Published April 3, 2014 8:59 AM