A Catholic priest who was defrocked for allegedly sexually abusing young girls was hired by the Transportation Security Administration before his background check was complete and has worked at Philadelphia International Airport for the last 10 years.
Thomas Harkins joined the TSA in 2002 after resigning from the priesthood the same year. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the TSA hired the former priest before completing a background check. The Diocese of Camden revealed to the TSA in 2003 as part of the background check that Harkins had been removed from his ministry in the diocese because of allegations he had molested two girls in grade school.
The diocese told ABC News Harkins was ordained in 1971 and was placed under restrictive ministry in 1993 when the diocese was informed of a report of inappropriate sexual contact with an adolescent female. Later that year, the diocese was informed of another report involving another adolescent female, diocesan spokesman Peter Feuerherd said.
Attempts to reach Harkins by ABC News were not successful.
Harkins was never criminally prosecuted, but the diocese settled civil lawsuits for $195,000, Feuerherd said.
Today, Harkins holds the position of Transportation Security Manager assigned to baggage operations at PHL. People with this job title do not perform any screening functions and do not have physical contact with passengers or their property. He has also held the position of Transportation Security Officer and Supervisory Transportation Security Officer Screening Manager. He did conduct pat-downs in those roles.
In a statement to ABC News, the TSA said, “Every single TSA employee undergoes a comprehensive background check, which includes criminal history. An allegation alone does not warrant dismissal or automatically disqualify applicants from employment with TSA. The Privacy Act of 1974 prohibits TSA from disclosing information from our employees’ job applications and employment records.”
Harkins’ position at the airport first came to light in May 2012 when a local news station reported on a lawsuit filed on behalf of an alleged third victim. It accuses Harkins of sexually abusing an 11-year-old girl 10 to 15 times in 1980 and 1981.
The diocese confirmed that a woman filed a lawsuit against it earlier this year complaining that Harkins abused her in 1980 and 1981. ABC News is withholding the woman’s name because it does not identify possible victims of sex abuse.
Harkins’ August 2002 hiring came at a time when a scandal of sexual misconduct of priests was unfolding across the nation. It was during the same time period, post Sept. 11, 2011, that the newly-formed TSA was in a hiring frenzy.