With eight short parish assignments, two leaves of absence, two assignments outside the Diocese, permanent removal as a priest and four sexual abuse lawsuits, Fr. Thomas Harkins has a history right out of the Spotlight movie.
One of the most informative aspects of the movie Spotlight, that depicted the Boston Globe’s news coverage of the priest sexual abuse crisis in the Archdiocese of Boston, is the assignment pattern of sexually abusive priests. In the movie, the Globe discovered that abusive priests were often moved from parish to parish more frequently than non-abusive priests. Further investigation, reveals that the same pattern of shuttling abusive priests from parish-to-parish occurred in the Diocese of Camden, New Jersey.
Fr. Thomas M. Harkins is an unfortunate example of this practice. Fr. Harkins was ordained as a priest in 1971. In 1972, Fr. Harkins was assigned to “duty outside of the Diocese.” In 1973 the Diocese of Camden assigned Fr. Harkins to St. Maria Goretti in Runnemede, New Jersey. He stayed at this assignment for only one year. In 1974, Fr. Harkins moved to Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, an Italian parish in Camden, where he remained until 1977.
For his third assignment in six years, in 1978, Fr. Harkins moved to Holy Name parish in Camden. According to a Philadelphia Inquirer report, while there, Fr. Harkins sexually abused a parish girl after meeting her in a religious instruction class. The parents of the girl reported the sexual abuse to another priest at Holy Name parish and then Harkins was sent away for treatment. The parents filed a civil suit for damages, which was ultimately settled by the Camden Diocese. During this period in 1979, Fr. Harkins was placed on a leave of absence from the Diocese of Camden.
In 1980, Fr. Harkins returned from his leave of absence to be assigned to St. Anthony of Padua parish in Hammontown, NJ. According to the same Philadelphia Inquirer report, Fr. Harkins sexually abused another girl at St. Anthony of Padua. This family also filed suit that was also settled by the Diocese. In 1981, Harkin was then assigned “on duty outside the diocese.” From 1983 through 1984 Harkin was, again, placed on a leave of absence from the Diocese of Camden.
After returning to the Diocese, Fr. Harkins assignments remained short and erratic. In 1985 through 1988, Fr. Harkins was assigned to St. Mary’s Christ the King Regional School in Haddonfield (Cherry Hill), NJ. In 1989, Harkins was assigned to Holy Savior parish in Westmont, NJ, where he remained for only one year. In 1990, Fr. Harkins does not appear in the Official Catholic Directory at all.
From 1991 through 1993, Fr. Harkins was assigned to St. Stephen parish in Pennsauken, NJ and also assigned to Camden Catholic High School in Cherry Hill, NJ. Finally, from 1994 through 2000, Fr. Harkins was assigned to the Immaculate Conception Cathedral in Camden. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer report, in 2000, the Diocese assigned Fr. Harkins as a prison chaplain. In 2002, the Diocese of Camden permanently removed Fr. Harkins as a priest.
Ultimately, Fr. Harkins was the subject of four civil sexual abuse lawsuits. The two mentioned above and in 1994, Harkins was named as a sexual abuser of a girl in 1979 through 1980 in a racketeering lawsuit against the Diocese of Camden. That lawsuit was ultimately settled by the Diocese. In 2012, another woman sued the Diocese of Camden relating to sexual abuse by Fr. Harkins when she was ten years-old, while Fr. Harkins was assigned to St. Anthony of Padua in 1980. This lawsuit was also settled.
Despite knowing that Fr. Harkins had sexually abused a number of parish girls while he was a priest, no one from the Diocese of Camden notified law enforcement. In 2012, Fr. Harkins ABC News discovered Fr. Harkins to be working as a TSA agent at the Philadelphia International Airport, a position that he held since 2002. This means that despite multiple reports of sexual abuse of parish children, eight parish assignments, two leaves of absence, two assignments outside the Diocese, permanent removal as a priest and four known sexual abuse lawsuits, Fr. Harkin was able to work in a federal government security position where he performed pat down searches of innocent travelers. See ABC News Report.
This would not be the case if the Diocese of Camden had reported Fr. Harkins to the police, as it was obligated to do as a mandatory reporter in the State of New Jersey. Fr. Harkins’ sexual abuse has already impacted way too many lives, shame on the Diocese of Camden for risking the lives of even more children by its cover-up.
About Patrick Noaker. Patrick Noaker is an attorney in Minneapolis, Minnesota who has represented hundreds of sexual abuse survivors in cases across the United States. Patrick is a member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum for winning multiple jury trial verdicts exceeding $1M and for winning tens of millions more in settlements. Patrick can be reached by email at Patrick@noakerlaw.com , by telephone at (612) 349-2735, or through Twitter @NoakerLaw.