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  Priest Ousted in Missouri Had Been Working at Disney World
Vistors to Theme Park Recognized Him and Notified Diocesan Officials

By Patricia Rice
St. Louis Post-Dispatch (Missouri)
June 21, 2002

A former Jefferson City priest who was dismissed from public ministry in 1999 in a sexual misconduct case has left his job as a greeter at Disney World in Orlando, Fla. -- at least partly because of intervention from Jefferson City diocesan officials.

Disney officials say Hugh Behan, 63, left the job a week ago. For the past month Behan has been under investigation by the Osage County Sheriff's Department in a sexual abuse case involving a 10-year-old girl in 1983, said Sheriff Carl Fowler of Linn, Mo.

Bishop John Gaydos of Jefferson City dismissed Behan, a former editor of the Catholic Missourian, the Jefferson City diocesan newspaper, in January 1999 in connection with allegations of sexual misconduct with an 18-year-old woman, sources say.

No criminal or civil charges were filed.

Since 1999, Behan has not been allowed any public ministry, to say Mass publicly or to wear clerical garb, a diocesan official said.

According to a Disney official, Behan had been working for nearly two years as a greeter at the transportation entrance area.

Several Disney World visitors from Missouri saw Behan working as a greeter and knew why he had been dismissed from the priesthood. They reported him to the Jefferson City diocese.

In April, the diocese alerted Sister Lucy Vazquez, chancellor of the Orlando Diocese, of Behan's dismissal, said Sister Ellen Marie Biri, chancellor of the Jefferson City Diocese. "We made sure the Orlando Diocese knew about (his past)," Biri said Thursday. The following day, Vazquez called Disney officials, said Carol Brinati, communications director for the Orlando Diocese.

Biri got a call from Disney officials asking about allegations against Behan, she said.

For two decades, Behan, a native of Ireland, had a high profile in central Missouri. In addition to editing the newspaper, he was the host of the half-hour "Pastor's Study" show Sunday mornings on KCRG-TV in Jefferson City, and he served as a chaplain for death row inmates and the Missouri Legislature.

In a phone interview Thursday evening from his home in Davenport, Fla., he told the Post-Dispatch that Disney World did not fire him.

"I'd just come back from having surgery, and I didn't want to add stress. I resigned," Behan said.

He declined to answer questions about sexual abuse allegations, treatment for sexual misconduct he was ordered to receive at St. Luke's in Suitland, Md., or why Bishop Gaydos told him to leave the public ministry.

"Just let it ride," he said.

One allegation against him involved Shelia Poeptgen, then 10.

"It's affected my entire life," she said in an interview from her home in Burlington, Vt. Nearly as painful, she said, was the lack of action of former Jefferson City Bishop Michael F. McAuliffe when she visited him at the age of 22 in 1993.

"He told me he would take care of it," she said. "I just wanted to be sure he (Behan) was not near children."

Later, she said, McAuliffe told her that Behan had received treatment and would continue in the ministry.

Not until 1999, after Gaydos reviewed the files was Behan suspended. Then, the diocese announced Behan was taking a leave of absence without details.

Disney spokesman Bill Warren said Behan "no longer works for the company," adding there have been no complaints against him involving sexual impropriety. Disney does criminal background checks on prospective employees, Warren said. Behan has never been arrested.

Sheriff Fowler said the Jefferson City Diocese has been very cooperative in the current investigation.

David Clohessy, national director of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, was upset that Behan's past was not a matter of public record.

"It's frightening that he could be working at Disney World, of all places," Clohessy said. "A public place like that is even worse than a parish, because when a child grows older and tells his or her parents, there is almost no way a parent can figure out who the adult was."

 
 

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