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  Ex-Parishioners Try Saving Priest's Name
Support: People Helped by the Late Rev. Theodore Feely Don't Believe Molestation Charges

By Michael Fisher
Press Enterprise (Riverside, CA)
February 4, 2005

When Diane Lamb wed in 1976, the Riverside woman vowed that her family's former priest, the Rev. Theodore Feely, would perform the ceremony.

"He was just a wonderful man," said Lamb, now 48. "I changed parishes because it meant that much to me that he officiate over my wedding."

Almost two decades later, Lamb is organizing a group of former Queen of Angels parishioners who are defending Feely, accused in recent months of molesting two boys in Rockford, Ill., during the1970s.

The Riverside parishioners, who grew up revering the Franciscan friar in the 1960s, are gathering signatures to send to Feely's religious order, hoping to preserve his memory as a quiet, spiritual priest who died in 1991.

"I believe to my soul that he didn't do it," said Lamb's brother, Robin Woolsey, 50, who suspects Feely's accusers are trying to cash-in on the clergy sex scandal gripping the Catholic Church. "It's an opportunity to make a buck by leveling charges that really can't be defended."

Feely has never been accused of sexual misconduct during his 20 years serving Riverside parishes, said the Rev. Howard Lincoln, spokesman for the San Bernardino Diocese.

Jeffery Anderson, a Minnesota lawyer who is representing one of Feely 's accusers, said he is not surprised that past parishioners are defending the cleric.

"In case after case, parishioners who had trusted the priest and think they are wonderful refuse to believe they are flawed," Anderson said.

Neither accuser has sued, Anderson said.

Feely's supporters say they are not blind to the avalanche of clergy abuse cases that have surfaced in recent years.

"There have been terrible abuses," Woolsey said. "The church has done a poor job in the past of dealing with that. . . but if there was anyone who I was 100 percent sure of, it was Father Ted."

Woolsey said that as a 10-year-old boy, he would ride his bike to church to meet Feely before the 7 a.m. weekday Mass at Queen of Angels.

"There was no one at the school, no one at the church," Woolsey said. "I was alone with him many, many times and never once did anything happen or did I feel uncomfortable."

Rob and Dan Meier, brothers and former altar boys, agreed, recalled how they were constantly at the church in the 1960s, attending classes, playing sports and working.

"We were in and out of the rectory all the time and we never experienced anything like that," Rob Meier, 48, said of the accusations.

Between school and church, former altar boy Scott Brennan figures he spent more time with Feely than his own parents. "He was always so encouraging," said Brennan, 47. "He was always a gentle, caring person who pointed you to God."

Last month, the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, a national self-help group, urged Bishop Gerald Barnes to visit the three Riverside churches where Feely worked to ask victims or witnesses to come forward.

"We are considering the most appropriate and responsible manner to respond in this matter," Lincoln said. Ordained in 1958, Feely worked at St. Thomas, Queen of Angels and Our Lady of Guadalupe during much of the 1960s, 70s and 80s.

 
 

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