Ala. Church: No Misconduct from Priest
Ky. Parish Removed Man after Sexual Abuse Charges
December 30, 2002
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - A Roman Catholic priest removed from a Kentucky church over sexual abuse allegations had served a Birmingham parish with no reports of misconduct.
The Rev. John Baptist Ormechea, who was pastor of St. Mary's Catholic Church in Fairfield from 1977 to 1979, was suspended from St. Agnes Catholic Church in Louisville earlier this month after prosecutors presented allegations of child molestation against him to church officials.
Father Ormechea, a member of the Passionist religious order, was accused of sexually abusing boys at Immaculate Conception Church in Chicago from 1979 to 1981. Father Ormechea went into seclusion without commenting on the allegations.
To fill the vacancy in Louisville, the Passionist order tapped a priest stationed in Birmingham.
The Rev. Albert Schwer, who had been living in the priests' residence at Holy Family Catholic Church in Ensley, has gone to serve the church in Louisville.
The Rev. Phil Paxton, pastor of St. Mary's, announced Father Ormechea's suspension and the priest transfer last week.
"It was a surprise," Father Paxton told The Birmingham News for a story Sunday. "You hope the scandals can subside, we can have reconciliation, and we can do better and move on."
Losing a priest in Birmingham strains the situation for Catholics here, he said.
"There aren't too many priests who can cover for me or Father Bob," Father Paxton said.
Father Paxton and the Rev. Bob Crossmyer, pastor at Holy Family, are the only priests remaining at the Passionists' priest residence in Ensley.
The Passionist priests came to Birmingham in 1937 to serve the city's small community of black Catholics during the segregation era. The Passionists helped start two churches, a hospital, two elementary schools and a high school for blacks.
Holy Family Hospital closed two decades ago, but the schools and churches are still going.
Holy Family Church, started in 1938, has weekly worship attendance of more than 200. St. Mary's, started in 1943, has weekly attendance of about 130.
Father Paxton said he knew of no allegations of misconduct against Father Ormechea while he served in Alabama.
Elizabeth Fox, a member of St. Mary's, said Father Ormechea was with her when her husband, Orlando Fox Jr., died in 1979. "He was a close friend," she said. "This was the first church he served as a parish priest."
She said she was shocked to hear the allegations against Father Ormechea.
"It's kind of disbelief," she said. "I'm not saying it didn't happen. I can't believe it. I'm going to be in prayer about it."
Her son, Orlando Fox III, said he was an altar boy for Father Ormechea and knew of no improper conduct. "He was a very fine man. I'm shocked."
The allegations against Father Ormechea were investigated by Chicago prosecutors, who summarized the results in a Dec. 11 letter that was sent to Louisville Archbishop Thomas C. Kelly. The investigation was prompted after an allegation by Timothy Nockels, 36, a Chicago stockbroker.
Mr. Nockels said Father Ormechea became a close friend of his family and visited their home several times a week for dinner while Mr. Nockels was about 11 or 12 years old. The priest would visit his bedroom on the pretext of saying goodnight and sexually abuse him, he alleged.
Mr. Nockels ended his affidavit by asking prosecutors to protect other children.
"If you do one thing, stop Ormechea," it said. "Get him away from kids."
Illinois prosecutors said they would have brought charges against Father Ormechea, but the statute of limitations had expired.
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