The Rev. Bruce Ritter, 72, who founded the Covenant House shelters for homeless teenagers but was forced to resign after several young men accused him of seducing them, died of Hodgkin's disease Oct. 7. The location of his death was not reported.
He had denied the accusations of sexual misconduct and was never formally charged. He resigned from Covenant House in 1990, and from the Franciscan Order the following year. He lived the rest of his life out of the public eye.
At its peak, Covenant House was the largest private child care agency in the country. It sheltered 2,000 homeless teenagers a night and took in $92 million a year. It operated shelters in six U.S. cities and in Toronto, and four orphanages in Central America.
Over the years, Mr. Ritter was visited by Mother Teresa, and President Reagan hailed him as a hero in his 1984 State of the Union address.
Covenant House started in 1969, when Mr. Ritter was living in a shabby apartment in the East Village of Manhattan, an area teeming with flower children and drug addicts. Six homeless teenagers asked if they could stay in his living room during a snowstorm. "I didn't have the guts to throw them out, so I kept them," he once said.
Word spread and he was soon deluged with runaways. He took over other apartments and enlisted college student volunteers to help. By 1972, hundreds of youngsters were seeking shelter in Mr. Ritter's informal group homes. He obtained a license to run a child care agency and opened the Under 21 crisis shelter in Times Square.
Ninety-five percent of Covenant House's money came from private donations, most of them made in response to mass mailings of letters in which Mr. Ritter graphically described the runaways' ordeals.
He once described his mission as helping children "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."
The scandal that led to his downfall broke in 1989, when Kevin Kite, a former prostitute, said he had had an affair with Mr. Ritter. Mr. Ritter denied it, but several other young men came forward with similar stories, saying he seduced them after they sought his help.
Questionable financial transactions surfaced. In 1990, the Franciscans ordered Mr. Ritter to take a leave of absence. Later that month, he resigned from Covenant House. In a report that August, the Covenant House board said it found extensive evidence of sexual misconduct but no severe financial impropriety. The Manhattan district attorney decided not to prosecute Mr. Ritter.
Long before the scandal, Mr. Ritter had been the target of criticism. Covenant House got a reputation for being so large and unstructured that it merely gave homeless kids the food and bed rest they needed to go on living their dangerous lives. Mr. Ritter himself admitted that two-thirds of those who took shelter at Covenant House wound up back on the streets.
In the aftermath of the scandals, contributions plunged. The Covenant House governance was restructured, and the organization rebounded after it was placed under the leadership of Sister Mary Rose McGeady, a Catholic Charities official appointed to replace Mr. Ritter.
Mr. Ritter was born in Trenton, N.J., and served in the Navy in 1945 and 1946. The following year, he began training for the priesthood at St. Francis Seminary on Staten Island. He spent a short time in a Trappist abbey in Kentucky but decided to return to the Franciscans. He was ordained in Rome in 1956.