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  Sex Charges Against Priest Stun School
Parochial Pupils Are Told Not to Believe Accusations Against the City Pastor, Monsignor Stephen Forish

By Kristin Casler; staff writer Phil Boyle contributed to this story
Morning Call
September 24, 1996

Parents of children at Our Lady Help of Christians School were outraged and confused yesterday by news that Monsignor Stephen Forish had been charged with attempting to solicit boys for sex over the weekend.

Questions about their children's welfare and Forish's status at the East Allentown Catholic parish, where he is pastor, went unanswered. Forish is free on bail.

"Personally, I don't want my kids there, around him, and I know other parents who don't either," one father said.

Forish had little contact with the schoolchildren, other than when celebrating Mass, parents said.

Deacon John Murphy, Diocese of Allentown director of information, issued a brief statement that the diocese, with regret, acknowledged Forish's arrest. Forish has denied the allegations.

Forish, who was arrested in a known South Bethlehem drug area frequented by prostitutes about 1:15 a.m. Sunday, has served as the diocese anti-abortion coordinator for 20 years.

During that time, the 51-year-old has represented the diocese publicly on issues of morality and sexuality.

"The bottom line is that education for a sensible and chaste lifestyle will decrease VD, abortions, children becoming parents, infertility and many psychological problems," Forish said in a 1987 letter to the editor published in The Morning Call.

In another, he wrote, "Parents, teachers and pastors will need to devote even greater energy to offsetting the warped ideas about lifestyles showered upon children and teens."

At the school yesterday, Dr. William Urbine of the Catholic Social Agency spoke to the children. The man who said he didn't want his children near Forish said he asked the school principal what Urbine told them and was instructed to find out from his children.

"I think I deserved a little bit more than, 'Go ask your kids,'" he said. "I felt very offended by that."

He later learned Urbine told his children Forish had been accused in the newspaper of something he did not do. Urbine urged the children not to believe it, that everyone is innocent until proved guilty.

Urbine couldn't be reached yesterday.

The marquee in front of the Hanover Avenue church, which is used to convey religious messages to the public, yesterday said, "O God Be Merciful to Me, A Sinner." It's not clear when the sign was put up, because it changes weekly or monthly.

As shocked parents waited for their youngsters outside the school, they tried to minimize the children's exposure to the ordeal and even forced a reporter to leave the parking lot.

One man said he believes the parents will get together and demand answers.

The diocese has no public policy on dealing with priests accused of sexual misconduct, so it is not clear whether Forish has been removed from duty pending the outcome of the criminal case.

Meanwhile, Forish was pulled from the list of speakers scheduled to appear this weekend at the Pennsylvania Pro-Life Convention at the Allentown Hilton.

Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation President Shirley Geoghan said she has two other speakers and she refused to say when or why Forish was removed from the list.

Forish was charged after he drove up to a 22-year-old man and asked if he was interested in sex for money, police said. When the man said no, Forish allegedly asked if he knew any 15-year-old boys who would be interested. The man then called police.

Milagras Figueroa of Mechanic Street said the man Forish spoke to was her brother. She had sent him outside to investigate a noise when Forish stopped and asked for directions. Then he asked for sex, said Figueroa, who witnessed the incident.

Her brother refused and threw a glass of water at him.

She said she does not know where her brother lives, so he could not be reached yesterday. He gave police his sister's address.

Bethlehem police stopped Forish after he ran a red light not far from Figueroa's home. Figueroa's brother identified Forish as the one asking for sex. Figueroa confirmed the identification.

Forish just lowered his head and said softly that it wasn't he, Patrolman Chris Bennick wrote in his report. Forish then asked police to give him a break because he was a priest.

Forish changed his story several times when Bennick questioned him.

First he said he was on his way home, traveling north on Webster Street to avoid a train. He didn't cruise the neighborhood or stop to speak to anyone.

He also said he went to his office at 1135 Stefko Blvd. to get some documents for some future talks. He said he was hungry and was headed to a sub shop on 3rd or 4th street on the South Side.

He again denied speaking to anyone and was convinced the witnesses had mistaken him and his car for someone similar.

Bennick said Forish then said he may have stopped to talk to someone but he wasn't sure, because he was tired and confused because he was hungry and has diabetes.

Bennick told Forish he didn't seem confused. Forish said maybe it comes and goes. He refused medical treatment.

When questioned further, Forish changed his story again and said he remembered talking to a man with gray hair on the South Side about where he could eat, but it wasn't the man who identified him.

Police said Forish then said he may have talked to more than one person and then admitted driving around the side streets for about 30 minutes.

Bennick said Forish later admitted talking to the 22-year-old but said the man must have misunderstood. He was just asking, "Where could I head to find something to eat?'"

Bennick said Forish denied any interest in 15-year-old boys and refused to take a polygraph test.

Forish was arraigned before District Justice Michael Khoury of Easton on charges of prostitution and related offenses and criminal attempt to corrupt the morals of a minor. He was released on his own recognizance.

More than 800 Catholic priests have been discharged from the ministry because of sexual abuse allegations, according to Tom Economus, president of Linkup, Survivors of Clergy Abuse, a national organization with 8,000 members.

He estimates as many as 3,000 to 5,000 priests are involved in some kind of sexual abuse allegation. That's 6-10 percent of Catholic priests.

The church has paid out more than $ 500 million in liability, Economus said. The Allentown Diocese settled a suit in 1988 in which a Schuylkill County boy claimed the Rev. Thomas Bender had a pedophilic relationship with him for six years, beginning when he was 10.

Forish rose to monsignor in 1991 and was assigned to Our Lady Help of Christians parish in 1994. Before that, he was assistant pastor at St. Anthony of Padua Church, Easton, and Holy Rosary Church, Reading, and campus minister at Kutztown University, the Berks County campus of Pennsylvania State University and Albright College, Reading. He served as pastor of Our Lady of Good Counsel Church, Gordon, Schuylkill County, from 1982-91.

 
 

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