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  SR Bishop Faces 3 Options for Accused
Priest Ross Still on Leave More Than a Year after Suspension

By Guy Kovner gkovner@pressdemocrat.com
Press Democrat [California]
July 22, 2003

More than a year after Santa Rosa Bishop Daniel Walsh supported the "zero-tolerance" approach to sexual misconduct by priests, he still faces the prospect of applying it to one of his own: a well-liked cleric who has acknowledged his sin but won't quietly resign his collar.

The Rev. Anthony Ross, who lives in the Santa Rosa area, was suspended in April 2002 after allegations by a Joliet, Ill., man who said the priest molested him at least twice in 1981, when he was 15.

Ross initiated his transfer from Joliet to Santa Rosa and was hired in 1993 to run the local diocese's ministry for county jail and Juvenile Hall inmates.

He remains on administrative leave, receiving a stipend from the church but barred from performing any priestly duties, diocese spokeswoman Deirdre Frontczak said.

When Walsh returns from vacation at the end of the month, he will find paperwork prepared by the Rev. Daniel Whelton, the diocese's canon lawyer, outlining the options for determining Ross's fate. The bishop can:

Convene a tribunal, which would exonerate or convict Ross. The tribunal also could find Ross' rights were denied, entitling him to resume his post, an outcome Frontczak said was unlikely.

Order Ross permanently removed from the ministry, prohibiting him from wearing a collar or saying Mass. Ross could retire and receive both a church stipend and a pension, Frontczak said.

Ross could appeal such an order to the Vatican, which would uphold or overturn the bishop's decision, she said.

Hand over the case to the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The congregation has the authority to take over any case of alleged sexual misconduct.

Whichever option Walsh selects, he must advise and get consent from the Vatican panel, created in 1965 as a direct descendant of the 13th-century Holy Office of the Inquisition.

Ross' alleged victim, now 37, said he is appalled by the delay. "This is all just comical to me," he said. "There's never been a clearer case for dismissing somebody."

The man said his family advised Illinois church officials of the molestations in 1983. There are no civil lawsuits or criminal charges pending against Ross.

Ross cannot return to active ministry unless he is absolved by a church tribunal, a process much like a civil trial but conducted secretly within the church.

Tribunals were added to U.S. bishops' sexual misconduct policy at the Vatican's insistence to ensure accused priests were afforded due process under canon law. The policy was approved by the Vatican in December and became church law March 1.

Ross has the right to request a tribunal. Walsh can recommend a tribunal and the Vatican congregation can order one, Frontczak said.

To date, no tribunal has convened nationally nor are any in the works, said Sister Mary Ann Walsh, spokeswoman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

A tribunal, or church trial, is "an unlikely option" for Ross, based on his own admissions, Frontczak said.

In a statement released by the diocese last year, Ross apologized for causing "pain to the young man from Illinois and his family because of my actions in the early 1980s." He did not characterize what those actions were.

Ross also acknowledged participating in therapy and allegedly wrote letters to the Illinois youth in 1983, while the he was in a California facility receiving treatment for sex-related problems.

A California law that allows lawsuits to be filed this year for decades-old offenses does not apply because the alleged crimes took place in another state.

The alleged victim said he has no plans to sue Ross or the church. "I'm over it," he said. "The guy admitted it. That's all I ever wanted."

Ross has said little publicly about the case other than his statement issued after his removal from the jail ministry. Ross could not be reached for comment, but he has not, Frontczak said, agreed to a permanent removal.

"He has not expressed a willingness to step aside," she said.

Sister Martha Marie Linhares, who was Ross' assistant, now heads the diocese's Detention Ministry, which includes a team of lay volunteers and several priests who offer Mass in jail facilities.

A second chance at the ministry for Ross is not an option under the bishops' policy for dealing with allegations of sexual misconduct.

"When even a single act of sexual abuse by a priest or deacon is admitted or is established ... the offending priest or deacon will be removed permanently from ecclesiastical ministry," the policy says.

Walsh joined in the overwhelming vote to approve the policy in June 2002 at Dallas but expressed concern at the time that it could end Ross' career.

"It's a heartbreak," Walsh said then. "It's another tragedy."

The bishop has since made no direct comment on Ross' case and could not be reached for comment Monday.

Frontczak said the policy leaves the church no choice.

"Unfortunately, we cannot have him representing the church in the ministry," she said. "It is not a matter of whether he is forgiven (by fellow clerics). It's a matter of assuring the faithful that we are serious about providing a safe environment for the children."

She said the case is not moving slowly. Diocese officials waited until March, when the policy became church law, and then began drawing up the paperwork for Walsh to consider.

"That part of it is moving along with due process," she said.

You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 521-5457 or gkovner@pressdemocrat.com.

 
 

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