Father Ritter and the runaways of Times Square

As a young Franciscan priest serving St. Brigid’s Church on Avenue B, Father Bruce Ritter began opening his East Seventh Street apartment to runaway kids who had no place else to go.

From those humble beginnings came Covenant House, which served homeless street youths—first on LaGuardia Place, then in larger quarters near the Port Authority Bus Terminal in the late 1970s.

He described his mission as helping kids “find a way out of the gutters and brothels and strip joints where their young bodies are in demand as objects of pleasure for lustful adults.”

In the 1980s, he was constantly lauded by politicians. Millions in donations flowed in.

Until 1990, that is, when a male hustler accused him of setting him up in an apartment in exchange for sex.

Soon, more young men made similar accusations. Father Ritter then came under fire for financial improprieties.

The Franciscans ordered him to take a leave in 1990. He resigned, denying the allegations.

Later that year, an independent investigation found substantial evidence that he had made sexual advances toward young men associated with Covenant House since the 1970s.

Father Ritter lay low for the rest of his life, dying of cancer in upstate New York in 1999.

Covenant House didn’t end with Father Ritter. It still serves homeless kids here in New York at its West 41st Street shelter as well as in cities across the country.

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6 Responses to “Father Ritter and the runaways of Times Square”

  1. Paula Says:

    I know someone who worked at Covenant House during the era of the independent investigation. What the investigation found was that he had engaged in “sexual activities” with a handful of adult males. Not teenagers, not kids. Basically, he was run out of the organization for being gay, not for exploiting youth. It’s sad that your blog post would perpetuate this false story.

  2. Holy Moly Says:

    I worked in their corporate offices for awhile. It was depressing. The executive staff was abusive to the mid-level staff and the mid-level staff in turn was abusive to the entry-level staff. There were a few Vatican 1 style catholics there who made it known that if it was up to them, corporal punishment would be doled out for any infraction.

    At that time the executive director was a nun who pushed for a change in the data entry system that cost millions of dollars. In the day or two after the change occurred, she quit. Seemed fishy. But that wasn’t most bothersome. What was bothersome was the letters from the public. It seems that every director of the org is treated as a cult leader. Conversely, it also seems they harassed donors in the fashion that drives people insane. Highly over the top in their efforts to solicit money.

    All in all, not a great place to work but I can only hope their actual efforts are worth it.

  3. Sheena Says:

    Josh Alan Friedman has a chapter in his book Tales Of Times Square about Covenant House. It’s a great read if you haven’t checked it out already.

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