Ex-Bishop Ministering in Michigan after Pedophilia Scandal
By Marian Dozier
June 2, 1999
Disgraced former Palm Beach Diocese Bishop J. Keith Symons has been ministering in Michigan and, according to one ordained deacon there, he is doing it with Rome's approval.
Symons, 66, led a one-day spiritual retreat in late May honoring the Virgin Mary at the St. Francis Retreat Center, in the small town of DeWitt. The center is owned by the Diocese of Lansing, whose bishop, Carl Mengeling, gave Symons permission only to lead spiritual retreats for adults, said Michael Diebold, Mengeling's spokesman.
Richard Savage, an ordained deacon and retreat business manager, said canon law required Symons to "get clearance" from Rome to do any pastoral work. Though Symons is not scheduled to do any more retreats, Savage said, he does have the right.
Sister Mary Ann Walsh, spokeswoman for the Washington-based National Conference of Catholic Bishops, confirmed that bishops do have to make formal requests to the Vatican Congregation for Bishops to re-enter ministry. A bishop would have to "explain he was seeking an assignment, why he feels he'd be ready for it, what kind of treatment he'd undergone, those kinds of things," Walsh said.
She would not confirm, however, whether Symons was required to seek that approval to work at a retreat center. "The conversation between Bishop Symons and the Holy See are confidential," she said, "and only known to Bishop Symons and the people at the congregation for bishops."
Symons had been the leader of the Palm Beach Diocese for nearly eight years when he admitted in June of last year that he had molested five altar boys early in his 40-year pastoral career.
He resigned, and was whisked quickly and quietly away to an undisclosed location for treatment for pedophilia.
In May, fliers publicly announcing his leadership of a Marian day event at the retreat center were sent to parishes in the area. One parishioner saw it in her church bulletin and called Stephen Brady, founder of Roman Catholic Faithful, a conservative church watchdog group based in Petersburg, Ill.
"She said, 'Isn't he the one who got in trouble in Florida?' We couldn't believe it," Brady said. "Nothing was being hidden."
According to Michigan state driver's license records, Symons has been living in Alma, Mich., a small town in the jurisdiction of the Diocese of Saginaw, since April.