Former University Chaplain Father Gabriel Zeis, who resigned in September 2019 amid a sexual abuse allegation dating back to 1975, was cleared of the charge on June 16 by an independent investigation, which found the allegation “not credible,” the Diocese of Trenton has announced.
According to a Sept. 11 email sent to student members of the Aquinas Institute, the University’s on-campus Catholic ministry, Zeis denied the allegation at the time but resigned immediately, both from his position as the ministry’s director and chaplain and as Diosecan Vicar for Catholic Education in the Diocese of Trenton.
The misconduct, which surfaced in August 2019, was alleged to have taken place at St. Francis Seminary in Loretto, Penn., in 1975, five years before Father Zeis’s ordination to the priesthood but shortly after his “solemn profession of vows,” according to the Diocese’s statement.
Zeis was ordained as a Roman Catholic priest in 1980 and has since served in a variety of institutions of higher education, including as President of Saint Francis University from 2004 to 2014 and as Chaplain at Princeton University from July 2016 to September 2019.
The ministry reported the allegation to the Office of the District Attorney for Cambria County in Pennsylvania, which subsequently forwarded the allegation to the state’s Attorney General. On Dec. 16, 2019, the Assistant Chief Deputy Attorney General sent a letter announcing the case closed and calling “into question the credibility and accuracy of the allegation,” according to the Diocese’s statement.
In accordance with “Province policies and Canon Law,” the Third Order Regular Franciscans then conducted their own investigation, engaging the services of an “independent investigator,” the Diocese wrote. After the preliminary investigation, a review board “composed entirely of lay people who are experts in youth protection” found that the “allegation is not substantiated and therefore is not credible.”
The Diocese’s statement noted that the Very Rev. Joseph Lehman has accepted the review board’s determination and proposed “that Fr. Zeis’ priestly faculties are reinstated and every effort is made to restore his good name and reputation.” According to the announcement, Fr. Lehman will discuss with Fr. Zeis his “imminent return” to the ministry.
“It is a relief to know, and for all parties, that the allegation against Fr. Zeis was found to be not credible,” wrote Zeis’s former colleague the Rev. Alison L. Boden, the University’s Dean of Religious Life, in an email to The Daily Princetonian.
When asked whether Zeis will be returning to campus to resume his past position, Monseigneur Thomas Mullelly, the interim director and chaplain at the Aquinas Institute, told the ‘Prince’ a different priest had been appointed to fill Zeis’s former role.
“A new chaplain has been appointed to serve the Roman Catholic Community at Princeton University,” he wrote. “Effective July 1, 2020, Fr. Zach Swantek, a priest of the Archdiocese of Newark, will serve as the Chaplin of The Aquinas Institute at Princeton University.”
Fr. Zeis could not be reached for comment.