October 1, 2012
About four months after being defrocked by the Diocese of Camden in
2002, Thomas Harkins had a new job as a security officer, including
patting down passengers, with the Transportation Security Administration
at Philadelphia International Airport.
The TSA hired the former priest before completing a background check,
the agency recently confirmed. According to a church document, the
diocese revealed to the TSA in 2003 as part of the background check that
Harkins had been removed from ministry because of allegations he had
molested two grade-school girls. Harkins was never criminally
prosecuted, but the diocese settled civil lawsuits for $195,000.
The TSA took no action as a result of the disclosure.
"An allegation alone does not warrant dismissal or automatically
disqualify applicants from employment with the TSA," spokeswoman Ann
Over the years, Harkins, 65, who lives in Collingswood, has been
promoted within the TSA and now oversees screening operations for
checked baggage, earning $75,600. He has not patted down passengers
since 2004, the TSA said.
Although Harkins has managed to lead a seemingly quiet life for 10
years, his past has come under scrutiny since May, when a lawsuit was
filed against the diocese alleging that church officials concealed
allegations against Harkins and allowed him to work with children even
though he had been treated for pedophilia.
Harkins was hired at the TSA as Homeland Security was initially
staffing up to protect airports from terrorists after the 9/11 attacks.
The newly created TSA hired about 50,000 workers, some before full
background checks were completed, said a TSA official who did not want
to be quoted by name.
Harkins was not excluded from the agency's applicant pool - which
typically includes retired police, veterans, and those with previous
security experience - because he passed the TSA's initial screening,
including an interview, Davis said.
Today, the agency no longer does massive hirings. Employment is
contingent on a full background check, and those without a positive
evaluation from a previous employer are unlikely to pass the agency's
screening, according to the TSA.