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  New Palm Beach Bishop Won't Identify Any Priests Accused of Abuse

By Peter Franceschina pfranceschina@sun-sentinel.com
Sun-Sentinel [Ogdensburg NY]
July 3, 2003

OGDENSBURG, N.Y Bishop Gerald Barbarito, poised to take over the Diocese of Palm Beach in September, repeatedly has pledged to remove from the ministry any priests found to have abused a child and to help abuse victims in any way the church can, but he has seen no need to publicly name accused priests.

Just last month, Barbarito quietly removed a fifth priest from his diocese in rural upstate New York after an allegation surfaced that the priest engaged in inappropriate behavior with a boy 30 years ago. Church officials refused to divulge the specifics of the priest's departure.

As a church-trained lawyer, Barbarito has said the rights of accused priests to their privacy and reputations also must be protected as guaranteed under church canonlaw.

In the Diocese of Palm Beach, church officials have taken away the rights of nine men to function as priests in the past year, after allegations against them came to light. Palm Beach church officials didn't initially announce those actions, but they did confirm the nine were removed because of abuse allegations in their pasts.

The Brooklyn-born Barbarito, who for 31/2 years has presided over Roman Catholics in the Ogdensburg Diocese, on Tuesday was named by the Vatican to lead the Diocese of Palm Beach. He will succeed Bishop Sean P. O'Malley, who has been tapped to head the Archdiocese of Boston.

Barbarito, who was in Palm Beach County for the announcement, was traveling on Wednesday.

Amid the rolling farmlands of the Diocese of Ogdensburg, the clergy sexual abuse scandal has not been on the forefront of parishioners' minds. They have deeper concerns about the future of their church in the face of a fraying economy and the loss of young people, who move away for better job opportunities.

The Rev. Terry LaValley, a spokesman for the Ogdensburg Diocese, would not reveal any further circumstances surrounding the priest's retirement or the removal of four other priests from the diocese last summer, after the nation's bishops adopted a zero-tolerance charter toward abusive priests. "Whenever we have personnel issues regarding something like that, that is an issue between the priest and the bishop, and we don't get into any details of that with the media," LaValley said. "We do not feel it is appropriate to discuss that with the media.

"The allegation was taken seriously, and we proceeded with our diocesan policy that was in accordance with the charter."

Parishioners were notified that the five priests no longer would be serving, LaValley said.

"If an allegation had been made by an individual, and it is proved to be of substance, if there is any question of harm to anybody, then the person was withdrawn immediately from the parish and the parishioners were advised of the fact," LaValley said. "There is no need to go into specifics."

The Watertown Daily Times, which circulates in the Diocese of Ogdensburg, reported Wednesday that the Rev. Paul Worczak was removed from ministry after the alleged victim came forward and told his story to diocese officials in March.

The alleged victim told church officials that in 1971, when he was 11 years old, he was touched inappropriately by Worczak and that later the priest kissed him, according to documents the alleged victim made public. He swore out a statement to church officials that was witnessed by one of the diocese's priests.

Barbarito met twice with Worczak's alleged victim, according to a letter the diocese's attorney wrote to the man on June 9. The lawyer offered to have the diocese pay for any counseling he has required or any in the future, but he said the diocese was not liable for any civil damages because the statute of limitations for such a claim had long run out.

"I realize the statute of limitations seems harsh to you and others with aged claims," the lawyer wrote.

LaValley said Barbarito is committed to reaching out to victims and following a zero-tolerance policy.

"His compassion for them is real, it is profound. ... ," LaValley said. Barbarito's handling of wayward priests has not been a controversial issue here, as he has continuously reassured parishioners he will do what is right.

"We're very concerned about all the victims that have been hurt in these cases," Barbarito told the Watertown Daily Times in October. "But at the same time, I'm extremely concerned about the rights of priests and the accused."

But David Clohessy of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests said Wednesday that bishops should be forthcoming about the circumstances of a priest's removal from ministry, because that openness can encourage any other victims to come forward and begin the healing process.

"The truth is everybody benefits when a bishop says, `Father Bob was removed for abuse,'" Clohessy said. "Knowledge is power."

Peter Franceschina can be reached at pfranceschina@sun-sentinel.com or 561-832-2894.

 
 

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