Gregory: Priest Steps down for New Review
Texas Reporter Raises Old Abuse Allegations
By George Pawlaczyk
September 21, 2002
BELLEVILLE — After Belleville Bishop Wilton Gregory told him he would be investigated about child sex abuse allegations raised by a Texas newspaper reporter, an Aviston priest stepped down from his parish duties Friday.
The Rev. Daniel L. Friedman, 56, pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Church, was placed on paid administrative leave by Gregory. Allegations include that he acted inappropriately while adjusting boys' loincloths during an Indian ceremony at the church's Camp Ondessonk.
Allegations of sexual abuse of minors by Friedman were first raised about 15 years ago during the tenure of former Belleville Bishop James Keleher. After Gregory was assigned to the diocese, the case was referred to the Diocesan Review Board, which cleared Friedman in 1995.
Gregory said his decision for yet another review is based on strict new policies toward sexual abuse by the clergy adopted nationwide, which were the focus of the reporter's questions. Gregory said he should have realized on his own that Friedman's case should have been sent back to the review board.
Gene Canavan, a Brussels teacher and former Camp Ondessonk co-director, said he was among the first to complain about Friedman's actions at the diocesan children's camp, but was ignored. He said he took complaints from parents, children and priests to Keleher in the late 1980s.
Told of the new review of Friedman, who was the camp's co-director with Canavan, Canavan said: "I've known Dan for a long time, and I'm not making an accusation, but I thought then and now that Father Dan shouldn't be a pastor around kids. He has a problem."
Had Friedman not volunteered to be placed on paid administrative leave, diocese rules would have required his removal until the board decides whether he is fit for the ministry. He could not be reached.
In the mid-1990s, when 12 Belleville Diocese priests were investigated and 11 were removed for sexual misconduct, Friedman was the only priest recommended for return to the active priesthood.
His return was "incremental," Monsignor James Margason, vicar general of the diocese, said Friday.
But Margason said that because the review board's actual discussions are not made known, even to the bishop, he cannot say with certainty that Friedman's alleged sexual abuse did not in fact warrant his removal in 1994. He said the bishop, then as now, will always accept the review board's recommendation.
During a telephone interview, Gregory said the new review was required because of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People adopted in June in Dallas during a meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on priestly sexual abuse. Gregory heads the conference.
The charter requires that any sexual behavior by a priest or deacon toward a minor, whether or not sexual contact was made, is grounds for removal and must be investigated. According to the charter, the prior board's review would no longer apply.
Asked whether he had heard new information about Friedman, Gregory said: "I don't know. I'm not going to second-guess it. I just thought it needs to be put before the review board again."
David Clohessy, director of the St. Louis-based Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said: "I would have hoped that Bishop Gregory would have seen the need for a new investigation on his own. I would only hope that he will investigate this promptly as well as the other case that has turned up."
A man recently called the diocese' sex abuse hot line with a 20-year-old complaint against a diocesan priest who is still in ministry. The caller was advised to stop talking and get a lawyer when he revealed he was under criminal investigation himself for child sex abuse.
Margason said the diocesan review board met Thursday and agreed to send a "third party" to contact the man and take his statement. He said the board will probably meet next week to discuss the cases against Friedman and the other priest, who has not been named.
Canavan said that years ago he had heard a number of complaints about Friedman, including some from the Rev. Brian Barker, then a Belleville diocesan priest, now assigned to duties in a diocese in Chicago. Barker could not be reached.
"I went to the diocese but nothing ever happened. It was very frustrating," Canavan said, "They said 'thank you' and I never heard from them."
During a press conference, Margason said some of the allegations involved a ceremony for boys at Camp Ondessonk where children dressed up as Indians. Margason said Friedman allegedly showed "inappropriate behavior when he adjusted the loincloths of some of the children."
The Dallas Morning News reports today that former Ondessonk staffers, including George Wickey of St. Louis, said that Friedman made suggestive sexual remarks.
According to the newspaper, Wickey described a meeting with Friedman, "then all of a sudden he got real weird. I very distinctly remember that he was moving his tongue like the way a teenage boy would pretend to be French kissing a girl. It was so crazy that I literally closed my eyes and looked down."
Margason said the diocese was aware of specific allegations made by Wickey, who was 16 when he was at the camp, and by former camp counselor George Benton of Carbondale, because they were contained in lawsuit depositions brought by the men. But the lawsuits were dismissed because the statute of limitations had expired.
Allegations contained in a lawsuit brought by Judy Hangsleben, 52, a member of Friedman's church, do not need to go before the board because she is an adult, Margason said. The lawsuit was dismissed after a judge ruled the statute of limitations had expired.
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