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  Accused Priest Resigns
Archdiocese Says It Didn't Ask Okon to Quit

By Diana Penner diana.penner@indystar.com
Indianapolis Star [Indianapolis IN]
May 9, 2003

An Indianapolis priest accused of molesting two teenage brothers in the 1970s has resigned from active ministry and can no longer work as a priest.

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Indianapolis announced the Rev. Jack Okon's resignation this week as part of a settlement with the priest, who had been on paid administrative leave since June.

"We've severed our ties with him," said archdiocese spokesman Greg Otolski.

He said Okon, 58, was not asked to resign, and David Hennessey, Okon's attorney, termed the resignation "a mutual parting."

Okon is one of more than 300 priests and at least six bishops across the United States to resign or be suspended in the past year over allegations of sexual misconduct.

Okon could not be reached for comment. Hennessey said Okon continues to maintain his innocence but decided to resign because the accusations and the church's process for handling them have taken "too great of a toll."

"He will continue to serve humankind in Christ's name," the attorney said.

David and Vincent Steiner of Indianapolis had accused Okon of molesting them while the priest was assigned to St. Therese of the Infant Jesus (Little Flower) and St. Simon parishes from 1974 to 1977.

Relatives have said they brought concerns about Okon to church officials in the 1970s and 1980s, but no action was taken.

Last June, as a clergy abuse scandal swept the nation, David Steiner went to the Indianapolis Archdiocese and again charged that Okon had molested him. Vincent subsequently was diagnosed with schizophrenia, and his recollections are unclear.

The charges were investigated by a review board composed of mostly lay members and one priest, which forwarded its recommendations to Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein.

Buechlein was not available for comment Thursday.

Okon's "resignation came in response to recommendations of the Archdiocesan Review Board and (the archbishop's) own review of the case in consultation with canon lawyers and other advisors," according to a written statement from the archdiocese.

Okon technically remains a priest, but he cannot serve in that capacity and is "permanently removed from ministry," according to the archdiocese.

Okon, who was suspended him from his maintenance job at Cathedral High School after the allegations surfaced, also will not be employed by the archdiocese in any nonministerial capacity. If he were to seek employment at a diocese elsewhere in the country, an inquiry would have to come back to Indianapolis, Otolski said.

David Steiner did not return a phone call seeking comment Thursday. The Indianapolis Star normally does not identify victims of sexual abuse or assault, but Steiner went public last year with his charges.

Okon plans to stay in the Indianapolis area and be involved in pet therapy, said Hennessey, who said he could not discuss details of Okon's settlement.

Friends have continued to support him and give Okon work, Hennessey said.

The attorney also was critical of the church's procedure for handling allegations of sexual abuse, charging there is no structure for formal fact-finding and effective representation.

Cathleen Graham, a member of the review board, declined to comment on Okon's case. But she said the process allows for evidence and statements to be submitted for the board's review.

The archdiocese has 266 priests who serve about 233,000 Catholics in 39 counties.

At least three other archdiocesan priests have been accused of sexual abuse or misconduct.

The Rev. John B. Schoettelkotte of Bristow resigned in February after local Catholic officials substantiated an allegation that he abused a woman 30 years ago. The Rev. Micheal H. Kelley resigned last August from a southern Indiana parish, admitting past sexual misconduct with adults. And the late Rev. Albert Deery was accused in a lawsuit of sexually abusing schoolgirls.



 
 

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