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Priest Named As Abuser Leaves Post

By Lisa Black
Chicago Tribune
August 7, 2002

A former head of the Chicago-based Servants of Mary religious order has announced his intention to leave the priesthood after a victim of his "inappropriate behavior" in the 1970s contacted officials at the Canadian university where he has been teaching.

Rev. John Huels admitted to misconduct involving Michael J. Bland, a Chicago psychologist and former priest who sits on the national review board studying sexual abuse in the church, said Guy Levac, spokesman for Ottawa Archbishop Marcel Gervais.

After Bland and a second victim complained of abuse in 1994, Huels was forced to step down as leader of the religious order, commonly referred to as the Servites, and was barred from working with minors. But since 1997 he has taught graduate courses in canon law at St. Paul University in Ottawa.

Bland wrote to a university dean in March to ask why his abuser was being allowed to work as a professor and had been recently promoted to vice dean. He decided to act, he said, after seeing Huels advertised in the United States for speaking engagements, which Bland thought was inappropriate.

"I'm not doing this out of vengeance," said Bland, who told his story to the U.S. bishops in June when they met in Dallas. "I'm doing this out of [the need for] transparency."

Dale M. Schlitt, rector of St. Paul University, said Huels has resigned as vice dean and has asked for medical leave from his tenured faculty job to be treated for severe depression.

"He won't be teaching or lecturing or participating in the faculty council," said Schlitt.

The archbishop, who is also chancellor of the university, said in a statement released Tuesday that when Huels was hired, he was not informed "of any inappropriate behavior in his past."

"Father Huels has tenure as a professor, and the statutes of limitations in canon law certainly would have allowed arguments that he continue," Gervais' statement said. "It is my hope that his voluntary actions today will bring peace to all involved."

Huels, a former student and professor of canon law at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago who has written extensively on church doctrine, declined via Gervais to comment.

When the sexual abuse allegations were raised, they were substantiated and acted upon according to policies in place at that time, said Rev. Michael Guimon, the current Servite provincial, who at the time heard the complaints as second-in-command to Huels.

"Based on professional advice, it was determined he could accept a non-priestly assignment teaching graduate students," Guimon said.

He said Huels is repentant and is well-regarded for his work. "He has fought for reconciliation and forgiveness," Guimon said.

Schlitt said he did not know if any university officials were informed of Huels' history, but Guimon said he is certain they were.

"The university was aware," he said. "Everybody was informed that needed to be informed."

Bland, ordained in 1987, left the priesthood and the Servite order in 1996. He continues to work part time for the Archdiocese of Chicago, counseling victims of sexual abuse.

"Once again, the sad reality is there are no winners," said Bland, the only victim serving on the Catholic review board, which is examining the causes and scope of sexual abuse by priests. "Many people are hurt in the process when there's a lack of leadership and direction, when leaders are not accurately informed or when there's an omission in making vital decisions."

Bland said he waited years to complain about the abuse--which occurred in New Jersey when he was 15 years old--because he was afraid of the consequences. When he did, he was asked to meet with Guimon in Rome, where Guimon was finishing a four-year assignment.

After returning to Chicago, Bland declined requests that he meet with an attorney and participate in a reconciliation process with Huels.

"I felt re-victimized again, again and again," Bland said in a statement he read in Dallas. "I felt they did not believe me, that my story was not seen as credible, that he was more important than me. It felt to me as if I was no longer one of the good guys but one of the victims to be dealt with."

Bland said that, although he remains close friends with some Servites, he decided to leave the order because of others who questioned his intentions and told him he was a "loose cannon."

"I felt they feared me," he said. "I was pathologized."

Bland, who advocates zero tolerance for sexual abusers, said he believes they need lifelong treatment and should be removed from the priesthood and other leadership positions.

He said he spoke twice on the phone with Gervais last week but declined the archbishop's request that he come to Ottawa to talk about the abuse. "I told him I made my impact statement in Dallas and made my position clear," he said.

Bland said he contacted St. Paul University for personal reasons. "I am not doing this as a national review board member," he said.

 
 

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