The Diocese of Trenton is sharing with its community this news release issued June 16 by the Third Order Regular Franciscans, Province of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, about one of its priests: Father Gabriel J. Zeis, TOR.

 

The Third Order Regular Franciscans, Province of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, announced today (June 16, 2020) that an allegation of sexual misconduct with a minor, made against Father Gabriel J. Zeis, T.O.R., has been found to be not credible.

The Province received the allegation in August 2019, and in accord with its policies, which take every allegation involving minors seriously, contacted the Diocese of Trenton where Father Zeis was ministering. He resigned his positions with the Diocese and was placed on leave by the Province pending the outcome of an investigation of the accusation. This process exists to ensure those who come forward are heard, and to determine to the extent possible, the validity of the allegation.

The incident of sexual misconduct was alleged to have occurred in 1975 at St. Francis Seminary in Loretto, Pennsylvania, shortly after Father Zeis' solemn profession of vows and five years prior to his ordination to the priesthood. Father Zeis was ordained a Roman Catholic priest in 1980 and has served in various capacities since then, including President of Saint Francis University from 2004 to 2014 and as Vicar for Education for the Diocese of Trenton and Chaplain at Princeton University (N.J.) from July 2016 to September 2019.

The Province reported the allegation to the Office of the District Attorney for Cambria County (PA) in September 2019. That Office subsequently referred the case to the Office of the Attorney General of Pennsylvania. In a letter dated December 16, 2019, the Assistant Chief Deputy Attorney General for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania called into question the credibility and accuracy of the allegation and announced the case closed.

In compliance with Province policies and Canon Law, the TOR Franciscans then engaged the services of an independent investigator, who was also a Canon lawyer, to conduct a preliminary investigation of the allegation. The information gathered during that investigation was also presented to an independent Review Board, composed entirely of lay people who are experts in youth protection. The Review Board agreed with the preliminary investigation's findings that the allegation is not substantiated and therefore is not credible.

Throughout the process, Fr. Zeis has vigorously denied the allegation.

The Very Rev. Joseph Lehman, T.O.R., Minister Provincial of the Province of the Most Sacred Heart, accepts and agrees with the Review Board's determination and proposes that Fr. Zeis' priestly faculties are reinstated and every effort is made to restore his good name and reputation.

Therefore, as a result of the Review Board's decision, Fr. Lehman will discuss with Fr. Zeis the details regarding his imminent return to ministry.