Bishop Defrocks Longtime Priest
Melczek: Monsignor Don Grass Admits to Abuse While at Holy Angels Cathedral in Gary

By Carmen McCollum
Times [Crown Point IN]
Downloaded December 22, 2003

CROWN POINT -- For the first time in Northwest Indiana history, a Roman Catholic priest has been removed from duties following admission that he sexually molested a minor more than 30 years ago.

Monsignor Don Grass, who has been pastor of St. Mary Catholic Church in Crown Point since 1983, admitted that he committed the abuse which occurred while he was an associate pastor at Holy Angels Cathedral in Gary in the late 1960s, according to Bishop Dale Melczek.

Following an investigation of the allegations and conversations with the victim and Grass, Melczek removed Grass late last week from his parish responsibilities.

Melczek, who visited all five of the parish's weekend masses, released a statement Saturday.

Grass, 67, of Crown Point, who has been ill and immediately lost his residence at the parish, could not be reached for comment.

Brian Olszewski, diocese spokesman, said he does not know if the victim is male or female or black or white.

He believes the victim was a member of the parish, and is not sure if the youngster attended the school at that time.

"The abuse occurred in the late 1960s," Olszewski said. "I am not sure over what period of time. I don't know where the victim lives or if he or she ever reported it to a family member. I also don't know if there was any hint of misconduct rumored in the 1960s (involving this victim)."

The issue came to light when the victim called the diocese office in late November, Olszewski said.

"The victim did not identify the priest then but called back in December and named the priest who committed the abuse," Olszewski said.

Based on the diocese's Sexual Misconduct Toward Minors and Others at Risk policy, three members of a team headed by Dr. Kenneth Flanagan, moved into action interviewing the victim and Grass separately.

Flanagan is the bishop's delegate for sexual misconduct cases and chairman of the Diocesan Response Team whose responsibility is to judge if allegations are truthful.

Olszewski said they were able to determine "that the allegations were in fact credible."

Though the statute of limitations has long since run out, Olszewski said he believes the victim came forward as a means of healing himself or herself.

"I wasn't there when the victim came forward," Olszewski said. "I'm not saying this is the reason but oftentimes what happens is the victim comes forward to begin the healing process. If they are ever to move beyond it, they need to come forward and clear the record."

Olszewski said he also does not know if the victim told parents, friends or other family members when the incident occurred and he does not know how long the abuse occurred.

Grass, a Wisconsin native who grew up in Whiting and was ordained in 1961, had been pastor of St. Mary Catholic Church in Crown Point, a parish of 1,775 families, since 1983. The Gary Diocese has about 187,000 Catholics and about 125 active priests.

When asked if this revelation would encourage other victims to come forward, Olszewski said he does not know.

"We don't know if any more cases will surface," he said. "But if there are victims that come forward at different times for different reasons ... we just don't know."

Olszewski said the Gary diocese was ahead of its time when it developed a sexual misconduct policy. Originated in 1993, the policy has been revised three times since then.

"When Bishop Melczek came to the Diocese of Gary in August 1992 soon after the Bishops of the United States met, he immediately began working on a policy," Olszewski said. "He was able to establish a policy after meeting with local people in the mental health field, psychology and education. The idea was to put a policy in place. You hope never to have to use it but it's there in case you need it. The bishop was well ahead of other places. Nationally, it became mandatory in the Catholic Church in June 2002."

Although there are no cases under investigation right now, Olszewski said there are some cases that have been reported that predate the policy.

"There were people who came forward not long after Bishop Melczek came to Northwest Indiana and reported instances of abuse in the 1960s and 1970s saying they just wanted the bishop to be aware of what happened," Olszewski said, saying five priests were identified at that time.

"I understand that one of the priests was out of the country and two of them were dead," he said.


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