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  Another Parish Struggles after Learning of Abuse Allegations

Associated Press State & Local Wire
March 12, 2002

Parishioners in Fayette were "struggling to make sense of it all," a church official said Tuesday, after the Rev. Don Wallace stepped down amid reports of abuse involving children in 1997 in another mid-Missouri parish.

Meanwhile, recent removals of priests in the St. Louis Archdiocese were expected to be discussed in a meeting of priests called by Archbishop Justin Rigali.

Wallace, 66, retired Friday rather than undergo further evaluation ordered by the Jefferson City Diocese. Parents of four boys, about 11 to 13 years old, accused Wallace in October 1997 of "boundary violations" when he was pastor of St. Patrick Church in Rolla. Most of the children were altar boys, diocese chancellor Sister Ethel Marie Biri said Tuesday.

"It would have been things like tucking in their shirts, patting them on the rear, things like that," Biri said. "I don't want to minimize an impact that something like that would have on someone who can't quite understand why Father's doing that.

"They weren't raped, but they were frightened and confused about it," she said.

Wallace underwent treatment and was assigned to a hospital ministry in Columbia in June 1998, under the supervision of another priest. He was assigned to the Fayette parish in June 2000.

Biri said the diocese re-evaluated its policy on reassignments after revelations that the Boston Diocese failed to remove 80 priests accused of sexually molesting children.

Jefferson City Bishop John Gaydos asked Wallace to undergo more evaluation. But Wallace, who had a heart attack last spring, "decided at this point he'd rather retire than put himself through another evaluation," Biri said.

Diocese officials met with parishioners at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Fayette this past weekend to discuss the allegations and Wallace's departure, Biri said.

"There's shock, there's sadness. Some people are angry," Biri said. "It's very hard. You know this person. This is somebody who had your wedding, baptized your children. I think they're just struggling to make sense out of it all."

The Jefferson City Diocese serves 86,000 Catholics in 38 counties from south-central Missouri to the Iowa and Illinois borders.

Monday's announcement came three days after the Rev. Anthony J. O'Connell resigned as bishop of the Diocese of Palm Beach, Fla., after admitting that he molested Christopher Dixon 25 years ago. The abuse happened while Dixon was a teen-age seminary student at St. Thomas Seminary in Hannibal, which is part of the Jefferson City Diocese.

Allegations by Dixon have played a role in the removal of two priests in the Jefferson City Diocese. The Rev. Manus Daly was removed last week from a church in Marcelene. Daly also allegedly abused Dixon at the Hannibal seminary.

The Rev. John Fischer was accused of abusing Dixon at a Hannibal Catholic school, beginning when Dixon was 11. The diocese said last week that Fischer was removed from the priesthood in 1993 after allegations involving other children.

The meeting of priests in St. Louis was closed to the public. Archdiocese spokesman Steve Mamanella said Rigali typically gathers the 400 or so priests in the archdiocese together about once a year.

Although the meeting wasn't called specifically on abuse cases, Mamanella said it was expected to be discussed.

The archdiocese, the nation's third-oldest and one of its largest, has removed two priests over child sexual abuse allegations since re-evaluating its policy after the Boston revelations. Another priest was removed last week after the FBI seized his computer in a child pornography investigation.

 
 

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