Investigators have concluded that Father Bruce Ritter engaged in sexual misconduct with young men at the shelter for runaways that he founded, Covenant House announced today.
The four-month inquiry, ordered by the Covenant House board of directors, discovered "cumulative evidence . . . supporting the allegations of sexual misconduct on the part of Father Ritter," Covenant House said.
If Ritter had not resigned as Covenant House president in February, the statement added, "the termination of his relationship would have been required."
The four-month investigation was conducted by Robert J. McGuire, a former city police commissioner. Covenant House officials said his full report would be issued later.
The findings first were reported by The New York Times today. Some Covenant House residents told investigators they spurned sexual overtures the priest made toward them, while others described sexual activities they engaged in with Ritter, the newspaper said, quoting people who had read the report.
Ritter, 63, who founded the shelter that annually serves 28,000 youths, has vehemently denied the allegations of sexual impropriety. He is believed to be living in New Jersey and is considering leaving the Franciscan order.
A statement today from Ritter's lawyer, Stanley Arkin, said the report "gives emphasis to an alleged few sporadic incidents, washing away more than 20 years of uncompromising and unstinting accomplishment."
Noting that Ritter has resigned from Covenant House, Arkin added: "Revisiting these allegations now is wholly unnecessary, either for Covenant House or for the public."
The investigation found no evidence that Ritter misappropriated funds at Covenant House, which runs shelters in 15 U.S. cities, Canada and Central America.
The Manhattan district attorney found "some questionable financial transactions," but no charges were brought against Ritter. The state attorney general's office is still investigating the organization's finances.