Vatican Returns Rensing Case to Belleville Diocese

By George Pawlaczyk
Belleville News-Democrat
May 3, 2003

BELLEVILLE — After recently taking over the case of a local priest accused of molesting a minor decades ago, officials at the Vatican have sent it back to the Belleville Diocese.

Belleville Vicar General James Margason said Friday that he has received a letter from the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome, which had requested in March that the case against the Rev. William Rensing of Sparta be sent to Rome for investigation.

Margason said at the time that the transfer of Rensing's case was probably the first time that an accused American priest had his investigation removed from a local diocese and sent to Rome.

Margason said that the letter from Archbishop Angelo Amato did not state why Rensing's case was being sent back to Belleville, where it will again be given to the Diocesan Review Board, which had been investigating for six months. Initially, Rome had received local letters complaining the case was being mishandled.

"I interpret this as Rome reinforcing the accords reached by American bishops," said Margason, referring to a historic meeting in June in Dallas. At that meeting, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops headed by Belleville's Bishop Wilton Gregory forged its Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.

The charter requires that any priest accused of sexually molesting a minor must be removed from parish duties and investigated, no matter how long ago the alleged molestation occurred.

"They are returning it to the process established by the American bishops to let it take its course," Margason said of Rome.

Margason said Gregory was in Rome this week and could not be reached.

Rensing, 72, who has strenuously denied any wrongdoing, could not be reached. He was removed from priestly duties in October.

The priest was accused by an unidentified man, whose accusations became known when he called an abuse hot line and talked with a lawyer for the diocese. Because the man mentioned that he himself might be under investigation for child abuse, he was told not to identify himself for fear that he would criminally incriminate himself.

Finally, after a lawyer volunteered to help, the man lodged his complaint that Rensing molested him in Fairview Heights about 30 years ago.

David Clohessy, the head of the St. Louis-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, was cautious about the significance of the case's return.

Regarding Margason's comments that Rome's decision supports the strict Dallas charter, Clohessy said, "I hope that his interpretation is correct. I also hope that Rensing's victim will turn to the criminal and civil justice systems for ultimate justice."

Margason said that if the review board decides that Rensing should be permanently removed, the case may still have to be returned to Rome, where church officials could order a canonical trial, a closed hearing that would be held in Belleville before a jury of clergymen and civilians.


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