Parishes Confront Dismissal of Priests
In a Bucks Church Where One of the Four Served, Members Were Surprised. Similar News Was Given in Northeast Phila.
By Dwayne Campbell
Philadelphia Inquirer [Philadelphia PA]
December 22, 2003
After the Archdiocese of Philadelphia's announcement that it had dismissed four priests accused of sexual misconduct with teenagers, pastors in two parishes where two of the priests had worked used their weekend pulpits to formally inform parishioners and offer counseling services for those who needed them.
A pastor at St. Michael the Archangel in Levittown, Bucks County, addressed the issue Saturday and yesterday before dozens of the faithful at morning and evening Masses.
It was at St. Michael where the Rev. Francis X. Trauger, 58, served as an assistant pastor before he was dismissed Dec. 1, after the archdiocese deemed the 1981 allegations credible.
"The Archdiocese of Philadelphia continues to make every effort to comply with the spirit and mandate of the charter" for the protection of children and young people, Msgr. Richard T. Powers said yesterday, reading a prepared statement at the church on Levittown Parkway.
An archdiocesan spokeswoman, Catherine L. Rossi, said pastors at St. Jerome in Northeast Philadelphia, another of the affected parishes, also read a statement to parishioners.
Trauger, who could not be reached for comment yesterday but who has denied the allegations, had served the archdiocese in various parishes since 1972. Officials did not say exactly when or where the alleged abuse occurred.
Though Powers made clear that abuse did not take place while Trauger was at St. Michael's, some parishioners said they were disturbed by the charges. Others said they were reserving judgment.
"You can't blame the church. You don't know what somebody is when you accept them," Kellie Buchanan said yesterday as she, her husband and two children were leaving St. Michael's.
"He was a good man, from what I knew of him," her husband, James, said. "I hope what they are saying about him isn't true."
Many other parishioners declined to discuss the matter; some said they would speak only if they were not identified.
Last week, the archdiocese revealed that Trauger and three other priests were dismissed after investigations were reopened into decades-old allegations. The follow-up was done to fulfill a review procedure instituted after allegations of sexual abuse by priests rocked Catholicism worldwide last year.
According to the archdiocese, new information from the reopened investigations also led to the dismissal of the Rev. Edward V. Avery, 61; Msgr. Leonard A. Furmanski, 72; and the Rev. John A. Cannon, 81.
Cannon was chaplain at St. Joseph's Home for the Aged in Holland, Bucks County; Furmanski was assistant chaplain at Nazareth Hospital in Philadelphia, where Avery was the chaplain.
Church officials said all four priests had denied the allegations. Avery said last week that he was "devastated" by his dismissal.
St. Michael's School sent a letter home to parents on Friday. Signed by Powers, it said its purpose was to "clarify some aspects of the situation" as reported by the news media.
The letter said that Trauger had abruptly left the rectory Dec. 1 "without saying anything to anyone." It wasn't until 3:30 that afternoon that the secretary of the clergy, Msgr. William Lynn, explained that Trauger had left for an undisclosed location and that a statement would be made within a week, but that the allegations "had nothing to do with St. Michael's parish."
According to Powers' letter, the statement was delayed, and it wasn't until Dec. 16 that Lynn notified him that the official announcement would be contained in a Catholic Standard and Times article to be published Dec. 18. The same day, The Inquirer also reported the dismissals.
After Mass yesterday, Powers would not answer questions about Trauger, but said many parishioners had asked how he was coping.
It was clear yesterday that parish officials had not expected Trauger's dismissal. Many parishioners clutched church bulletins and 2004 calendars listing Trauger as one of the church's parochial vicars.
"I don't know if he did it, but we've heard about so many of these cases," Kellie Buchanan said. "When it hits home it's like - wow."
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